When you're Canada's defending heavyweight taekwondo champion and you have a goal of eventually competing for your country at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, those are good things for Winnipeg's Michael Kitschke to be.
He took what he admittedly called a small but important step on Valentine's Day, winning all six of his matches and claiming the heavyweight division at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas.
At 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds but only 22 years old, the student of K.S. Cho Taekwondo College beat a former world champion from the Netherlands in the final after dispatching big bodies from South Korea, Croatia, Mexico, the U.S. and Costa Rica.
"I think what's happening is, each year I'm getting better and better, but I think experience and age have a lot to do with it as well," Kitschke said Wednesday. "I think that day was just my day. Sometimes you're just not feeling it."
Kitschke said taekwondo isn't like kickboxing, "where you're trying to kill the other opponent.
"It's more of a game. So if you can play it really well, then you have an advantage... I'm able to stay very relaxed and calm, even under pressure.
"Physically, I can see myself being faster than many others. On the world stage, there's not much difference. I don't weigh as much as most opponents, but I still have that speed advantage."
He said the most important part of winning the U.S. Open was being able to beat a former world champion, and it shows him he's on the right track for London as long as he continues to train and fight in meaningful competitions.
In three weeks, he'll be competing in team trials for the World Cup in Azerbaijan June 10-14. Even bigger than that event, he said, are the World Taekwondo Championships in the Netherlands next October.
"That would be a major step," said Kitschke, a full-time student who receives no federal funding. He holds down a part-time job.