Greenwood, teen taekwondo competitor with Schenectady roots, earns spot as US Olympic alternate

Makayla Greenwood has qualified as Team USA's alternate in the women's 57-kilogram division in taekwondo for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. (Photo courtesy USA Taekwondo)

Makayla Greenwood has qualified as Team USA's alternate in the women's 57-kilogram division in taekwondo for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. (Photo courtesy USA Taekwondo)

Makayla Greenwood has one busy summer ahead of her.

The 17-year-old taekwondo standout transplanted from Schenectady — where she was a student at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School — to Colorado Springs, Colorado last year to train at USA Taekwondo’s home base. Greenwood, ranked No. 2 in the country in the women’s 53-kilogram division, said Thursday she’ll likely be based out of Colorado Springs through 2028, with the goal of competing in that year’s Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

She’s pretty close already.

This past weekend, Greenwood won a fight-off tournament to earn the spot as Team USA’s alternate for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics at 57 kilograms. A trip to Tokyo isn’t likely — Greenwood said she’ll stay in Colorado and only get the call to compete if 57 kg qualifier Anastasija Zolotic tests positive for COVID-19 during a time period that would exclude her from competition, which would then necessitate Greenwood testing negative and then heading to Japan — but it’s an accomplishment she’s thrilled with at this young stage in her career.

“I was really happy,” Greenwood said in a phone interview. “The hard work paid off that I’ve been doing in practice. I was just really excited that I was able to win that tournament.”

Though she’s only an alternate for the Olympic team, Greenwood is gearing up to represent Team USA on the international stage in just a matter of weeks.

In addition to earning the spot as Zolotic’s alternate, Greenwood has also qualified for the Senior Pan American Championship, which will be held June 4-9 in Cancun, Mexico.

Greenwood said she’ll compete at the Pan Am event in the 53 kg division, then immediately turn around to take part in the Mexico Open at 57 kg.

Winning the fight-off tournament over the weekend was a culmination of Greenwood’s arduous training routine.

Practice is five days a week, with two sessions on each day — one focused on taekwondo, one focused on strength and conditioning.

Greenwood is part of the team helping the 18-year-old Zolotic — herself a 2019 Pan American Games gold medalist — gear up for her competition in Tokyo.

“We’ve been doing a lot of stuff to ready her, which also readies everyone else,” Greenwood said. “Going through that training is really what helped me win this tournament.”

In the tournament itself, the draw resulted in Greenwood receiving a bye to the semifinals. After breezing to a convincing win over her first opponent, the final match came down to a fight between Greenwood and teammate Faith Dillon.

It made for an interesting dynamic, given that the two had plenty of experience sparring against one another in training.

“I don’t want to say it was weird, because we fight in practice,” Greenwood said. “It’s just different, because we have to be serious in that situation, because it is a tournament. You’re not at practice. You can’t be friends right then and there.”

The familiarity between the two resulted in a predictably close match that Greenwood described as both slow and tactical, but Greenwood was able to pull out a 6-5 win to secure the alternate spot.

Greenwood’s now set for a rigorous remainder of the spring and summer, training her way up to the Pan Am tournament while also helping with Zolotic’s Olympic preparation — with the knowledge that she might be needed at a moment’s notice.

“We’re going to start doing a lot more contact drills,” she said. “That’s just more fighting situations and scenarios. We’re kind of fine-tuning everything that we’re already good at, just cleaning everything up and making sure everything’s good for when the Games come along.”

Though she’s already pushing at the sport’s top level, Greenwood’s biggest taekwondo dreams still lie in the teenager’s future. 

The next two Olympic cycles are firmly in her sight — she’ll still be 20 when the 2024 Olympics are held in Paris, and only 24 when the Games return to home soil in Los Angeles in 2028.

“It’s crazy. I’m only 17,” she said. “It’s just another step for me to be able to make the Olympic team myself, instead of just being the alternate. This is just another step to get there.”

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