A slight when he was a young man in his native Viet Nam has served as a motivator for a Carson City man to ascend to the top of his sport in the world.
Chi Duong, who moved to Carson City in 1984, competed back in Viet Nam as a young man but never achieved the notoriety he enjoys today as a four-time U.S. Open champion in Tae Kwon Do in the 60-over age group. He also has a bronze medal and a silver medal from World Championships in 2013 and 2014 in the division in events held in Bali, Indonesia in 2013 and Caliente, Mexico, in 2014.
He was hoping to go for a gold medal and the world championship in 2015 in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Viet Nam, but the championships were canceled.
Now, the 64-year-old Grand Master has set his sights on the 2016 World Championships in Lima, Peru, when he hopes to ascend to the top of his sport.
Ironically, Duong did not start competing in the U.S. championships until 2012 at age 60.
How he got there is a story in itself.
“In Viet Nam, money bought you privilege,’’ said Duong in explaining his lack of a championship as a young man in the 1960s in his native country.
So he never got a fair chance then, nor did he get a chance during the war.
“When I was in the Air Force (1969-1975), you had to be a big-wig to get out of duty and compete,” said Duong.
Duong was disappointed that the World Championships in Viet Nam were canceled last year.
“I really wanted to go there and show them what I can do,’’ said Duong.
It was the slight in his early days that has led to his late-life success.
The former Viet Nam Air Force flight engineer came to the United States in 1975 after being evacuated from Viet Nam in the face of the Communist takeover in April 1975. Tan Son Nhut Air Base was under artillery fire when his U.S. Air Force C-130 took off, headed to safety in Thailand.
Duong, then 24, spent three months in a tent at Camp Pendleton near San Diego in 1975 before beginning a journey that took him to El Cajon, Ca., Berea, Ky., San Jose, Ca., and eventually to Carson City.
Duong studied English and Industrial Arts at Berea College in Kentucky, and briefly considered a return to flying when he looked into a job with Air America in Mountain View, Calif., but the roar of an engine in a hanger at Moffett Field brought back some bad memories and he decided his flying days were over.
His wife, Phung, who he first met in Saigon and later married in Kentucky in 1979, helped him get a job in San Jose as an electronic assembler. She also attended Berea College, working on a business degree.
“I was over-qualified,’’ said Duong. “No one wanted to pay me, so I had to take that job.’’
He wound up being transferred to Carson City in 1984 and briefly owned a home in Dayton before moving into the city and volunteering at a Tae Kwon Do school called Stars & Stripes where he enrolled his son, Kim, and daughter Truc-Ha.
“I worked a lot of hours in those days, so I didn’t have a lot of time to teach,’’ said Duong.
But that changed. He increased his teaching in subsequent years and drew a following.
“In 1994, my students opened a studio and gave me the key,’’ said Duong.
It was 2002 when he got into the competitive side of Tae Kwon Do — not as a competitor, but as an official.
“I became an international referee because I wanted to make sure that everyone was treated fairly,’’ said Duong, still stinging from the unfair treatment he has received as a young competitor.
Duong ascended to become the Nevada officials chairman and officiated in the U.S. Open championships in Chicago in 2009.
When the U.S. Open came to Las Vegas in 2012, Duong decided to compete.
“I felt if I won a title, my students would listen to me better,’’ said Duong.
After winning gold medals in Las Vegas in 2012 and 2013 and 2014 and in Reno in February of 2016, they are all ears.
What happened to 2015?
“It was in Florida (Orlando) and I could not afford to go,’’ said Duong.
Fast forward to the present. Duong will go to Colorado Springs, Colo., Aug. 25-26 to compete in the U.S. Trials and if he wins his division there, he will be a member of the U.S. team that will travel to Lima, Peru, for the World Championships that begin Sept. 29.
Duong owns and teaches at his Chi Kwan TaeKwonDo school in the Carson Mall three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. His students range from age 3 to adult. Call the school at 775-885-0547 for additional information.
Duong is a 9th-degree Black Belt and has been a Grand Master the last 22 years. Next, he hopes to add World Champion to his resume.