WALLA WALLA — When Walla Walla’s Alex Lybbert returned from the World Karate Championships in January, he was sporting black, blue and silver.
A black eye, a blue bruise on his back and a silver medal around his neck, that is.
“When I got the medal, I had that moment of excitement and happiness,” the 17-year-old said. “And the moment of ‘I finally did it, my dream has come true.’”
That dream was nearly a lifetime in the making for Lybbert, who has been practicing karate under the teaching of his sensai and father, David Lybbert.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him, that’s for sure,” David Lybbert said. “He went over there and he was well-prepared. He peaked at the right moment in all aspects of the karate program.”
Alex Lybbert competed in kata and kumite at the event, which was held in Munich, Germany, from Jan. 24-26.
Kata, where he claimed the silver medal, involves performing a specific set of moves while maintaining perfect form. Kumite, or sparring, pits two competitors against one another with one challenger attacking and the other defending. Points are awarded for knocking, sweeping or throwing your opponent to the floor.
Lybbert, who competed against other 16- and 17-year-olds, squared off with 10 competitors in kata. He said most of his rivals hailed from the United States, as the remainder of the 35-person national team observed from the stands.
“It was pretty fun,” Alex said. “We just went out there and at this point the mats were really slippery, so it was kind of hard to perform. It was pretty intense. Everyone was watching because we were the first ones up to compete.”
He said the results were extremely close, with Lybbert claiming the silver medal by only half a point more than the eventual bronze medalist.
“Since he was 2 years old, he’s worked hard,” David said. “The thing that’s neat about Alex is he’s easily coachable. He listens and he’s willing to take your word for it that you know what you’re talking about.”
The sparring portion of the tournament was where Alex earned the black and blue.
But not quite as badly as his first opponent.
He opened the kumite portion of the event against an Italian competitor, who seemed to have his hands full.
“I beat him,” Alex said. “I accidentally knocked him out — I didn’t mean to. I felt pretty bad about that.”
In his ensuing match against a Serbian opponent, Lybbert landed a kick to the head and escaped with a 3-2 victory.
In his next match, which would be his last, Lybbert competed against a Russian challenger with a four-inch height advantage over the 5-foot-8 Lybbert.
“At the start, I was fighting and then all of a sudden, he would jab (me) in the face,” Alex said. “The first punch cut my upper lip and I was like, ‘this is on.’”
With the match tied at two points apiece, his opponent delivered three kicks to his back, which caused bruising over the lat muscle.
“I kept on catching them and catching them — it was a bad idea,” he said.
But Lybbert bided his time — and made his move.
“By the fourth kick, I caught it and I was getting really mad,” he said. “I punched him right in the face, kicked his foot out so he fell on his butt and then (delivered) three punches right to the face.
“That was my payback punch.”
After the judges awarded Lybbert points for the takedown, the match went into sudden death where the first competitor to score wins.
Lybbert assumed he had claimed the match after he landed two punches early, but the judges apparently missed his swings.
“I started to back up and I guess the judges didn’t see or something like that and he threw the jab again and gave me a black eye,” Lybbert said.
The judges instead awarded his competitor a point, which sent him on to the gold medal match, where he lost.
After a controversial finish, Lybbert had nothing but a black eye to show for his sixth place finish. But he still looked better than his opponent.
“(He) was worse than me,” Lybbert said. “That takedown I got on him — I made him pay for it.”
“They both gave all they could have,” David said. “Alex actually scored first, but that’s the way things go. He was right to the point of being able to go for the gold medal.”
Lybbert, who spent six days at the tournament, said the team spent most of their time training but they also took time to tour around the city.
From gazing at breathtaking churches to walking around town, Lybbert said he would recommend Munich to anyone.
“I was excited,” he said. “I didn’t really want to leave. It was a great experience just to be over there.”
His father also wanted to express his gratitude to the members of the Walla Walla community for all their support in sending Alex to the tournament.
“People contributed really well and I was just so grateful for that,” David said. “He represented Walla Walla with a lot of dignity and respect.”
With the tournament in his rearview, Lybbert is now back to being a typical 17-year old — with baseball starting at Walla Walla High School in the spring and his college search to follow.
But not every 17-year-old has a silver medal at home.
“I knew he could do it,” David said. “We set goals and he’s achieved them. I know that when he graduates from high school, his life is going to go 1000 miles per hour and he might not (have) gotten another shot at it.”