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fastest rising taekwondo exponents : On May 4th , 2008

Cassandra Haller is one of Thailand's fastest rising taekwondo exponents and could become the next big thing on the international stage.

The Swiss-Thai achieved fame at the 24th SEA Games in Nakhon Ratchasima in December when she won the welterweight gold against all odds with a brilliant come-from-behind victory in the final.

She looked down and out after the first round when she trailed her Philippine opponent by five points - three to minus two.

But the 16-year-old star rallied to win the bout 5-4 for her first international title three years after taking up the sport just for fun.

She learned Muay Thai and tennis before her Swiss father Peter and Thai mother Patcharee asked her to choose a sport she preferred and practise it seriously.

"I like fighting," Cassandra recalls. "I do not like ball sports such as tennis, basketball and football so I picked taekwondo."

It did not take too long before she fell in love with Korea's martial art because it was fun and suited her fighting spirits.

"I made a lot of friends and had a lot of fun in the gym," she says. "At first I did it just for fun and I felt I needed to know self-defence. But soon I felt it was hard to quit."

At the beginning, she was often well beaten in competitions. But she kept practising and waited for her time. "I was often kicked in the mouth and lost badly but I never gave up," she says.

Her never-say-die attitude and support from her teachers and friends have helped her make progress at school and in competition.

Affectionately called "Sandra" by her friends, Cassandra is busy at both studying and training.

"I have to do everything to catch up with my friends at school," says the 12th grade student at Udomsuksa School in Rangsit. "Fortunately, my friends and teachers help me a lot."

Her teachers allow her to hand in her homework later than other students to give her more time to finish it.

Her younger brother Ulysses is also a taekwondo exponent. He has won several domestic youth events and Cassandra believes he will fare better than her.

As for Cassandra, her biggest problem is her physique which is much bigger than an average Thai girl.

Preecha Tortrakul, a senior official at the Taekwondo Association of Thailand (TAT), says Cassandra is a rare breed of Thai female taekwondo fighters as she stands 176cm and weighs 61kg.

This makes it difficult for her to find female sparring partners of the same size, he says.

But the TAT has found a solution to the problem by getting her to train with men.

"It is tough for her. But she is physically and mentally strong enough to handle this," Preecha said.

However, he suggests that Cassandra should shed a few kilogrammes and fight in a lighter weight class.

"It can be a disadvantage if she takes on a European opponent, as they are usually bigger and stronger in this weight class," he says.

Cassandra agrees. She says she will try to reduce her weight so that she can move faster.

Her ultimate goal is compete in the Olympics. The Beijing Games is too soon for her and she hopes to represent Thailand in London in 2012.

She knows that she needs more experience to reach the goal and one of the stages for her to hone her skill is the WTF World Junior Taekwondo Championships to be held next week in Izmir, Turkey.

"Winning gold is my target. Only gold can satisfy me," says a confident Cassandra who will be one of Thailand's 13 exponents.

Cassandra has competed in a couple of international tournaments and took bronze in the Asian Junior Taekwondo Championships in Jordan.

If all her taekwondo dreams are fulfilled, Cassandra plans to enter the entertainment world. But at the moment, her focus is on taekwondo.

Muay Thai Camp & Boxing Training in Phuket, Thailand
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