Zaleski wins world heavyweight title

When heavyweight world champion taekwondo competitor Jon Zaleski moved to Fort St. John from Kelowna in March, he wasn't sure what to expect when it came to facilities where he could train.

Not knowing much about the town he was a bit skeptical at first, so he called ahead and was pleasantly surprised to find out about FiveStar Athletics.

"I called them before I moved up here to see if there was any taekwondo here and I saw there was the FiveStar gym. I called ahead, walked in and just started training right away," Zaleski said.

"It's actually a really great gym. The facility is awesome."

That meant that Zaleski was able to transfer not only his job at TD Bank, but also his intense training schedule, which can mean up to eight times a week, often twice a day.

"When I'm peaking for competition I usually train seven or eight times a week, so a couple two-a-days and then usually six days a week at FiveStar. I train with the kick boxers," he explained.

"Traditional taekwondo is a lot more like kick boxing. We just wear gloves, footgear and head gear."

With all that training, maybe that's why Zaleski was able to go undefeated and win the heavyweight title (80 kg and over) at the Tae Kwon Do International World Championships in Coventry, England on July 14.

The TIWCs only happen every two years and can have up to 3,000 competitors from 27 countries. In Zaleski's division, there were 75 competitors from around the world, and in the single-elimination format, Zaleski was able to beat them all, including American Steve Miller who defeated Zaleski at the last TIWC in 2011.

"The last one I went to I came second, so I was expecting to do decent," Zaleski said. "I lost to an American named Steve Miller and he's really good, but I beat him this time."

"I had to fight him in the semi-finals to go to the final. We ended up on the same side of the draw this time, and I fought a guy named Tim Chow from England in the finals."

The final wasn't easy for six-foot-six Zaleski, who was up against the home crowd.

After two two-minute rounds fighting against Chow, the four judges had a split decision, forcing Zaleski and Chow into two-minute tiebreaker.

"It was tied after our fight, so we had to go to overtime and I won," Zaleski said.

"I think I scored a few head kicks," he added, when asked what was the deciding factor in his victory. "It's a more difficult technique, and it's a lot harder to kick someone in the head than to punch someone."

Zaleski's heavyweight win in England wasn't his first world title, either. Back in 2008, the Kelowna-product won a gold medal at the 2008 WASCO Open World Championships in Italy, as well as two silver medals in 2012 at the European Tae Kwon Do Open Championship in Krakow, Poland to mention some of his accomplishments.

The 26 year old has been practicing taekwondo for 20 years and has no plans to slow down now that he's joined Fort St. John's rank of world-renowned athletes. He plans to continue his training at FiveStar, but first he wants to rest for a bit after winning his heavyweight title in Coventry.

"I'm going to relax for a little to start," the commercial banker said. "Another organization is hosting a World Cup in Edmonton that I've been invited to in October, so I'm probably going to go do that."

No doubt the community will be welcoming Zaleski with open arms, as Fort St. John athletes, born or adopted like Zaleski, continue to put the city on the map.

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