In what was believed to be the first fatality in an official U.S. taekwondo tournament, a budding 25-year-old Danish rock star collapsed and died after being kicked in the head by his opponent during a match Saturday evening at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Michael Richard Strube of Aalborg, Denmark, was lead singer for a popular Danish dance band, Point, and also had a successful career as a model, appearing in television commercials and magazines, according to news organizations in Copenhagen.
Strube, 25, performed with two female dancers who worked with him at a Danish modeling agency. The group was about to release its third recording.
Strube was a second-degree black belt who had studied the Korean martial art for about six years. He arrived in Anaheim late last week with other members of the Danish team to take part in the eighth annual United States Open Taekwondo Championship on Friday and Saturday. The competition is open to black belts only.
"He was one of the finest fighters in Denmark," said Strube's trainer, Christian Jorgensen, who worked with him at Aalborg's Taekwondo Club in Copenhagen.
Julie Naeslund, 20, of Copenhagen, one of the singer-dancers who performed with Strube, expressed shock over his death. "I can't believe this happened. Everybody looked up to him. He was such a popular guy and everyone looked up to him."
Jay Warwick, executive director of the United States Taekwondo Union in Colorado Springs, Colo., was flying to California on Sunday to meet with tournament officials about Strube's death. He said he believed it "was an unfortunate accident," but "a full investigation by the union will be launched."
Warwick said this was the first fatality he was aware of in the eight years the tournament has been held.
Strube, who was wearing head protection, was kicked in the head during a match against a member of another team and collapsed about 4 p.m. Warwick could not immediately identify Strube's opponent.
Anaheim paramedics, who responded to a 911 call from the Convention Center, said Strube was in cardiac arrest when they arrived. They tried to revive him using cardiopulmonary resuscitation and transported him to UCI Medical Center in Orange, where he was pronounced dead at 10:20 p.m., a hospital spokeswoman said.
"I think it's a freak accident," said Chan Yong Kim, owner of Oriental Moo Do in Cerritos and a former referee for the 1988 and 1992 United States Taekwondo Olympic teams. "I've never seen or heard of anything like this happening in the 50 years I've been involved in taekwondo."
Kim, who did not witness the match, said six students from his school who participated in the tournament and his son told him the news.
Kim, who was the referee chairman for the World Taekwondo Federation for nine years, said participants in all competitions are required to wear head, arm and leg protection, and a physical is performed to ensure fitness for fighting.
"That's why this is so shocking," he said, "because from what I understand he was healthy and wearing the required protective gear. I don't have any clue what else could have happened."
An autopsy Sunday revealed Strube died of cranial hemorrhaging caused by blunt trauma to the head, said a spokesman for the Orange County coroner's division.
Strube's mother, Susie Andersen, a resident of Copenhagen, was unavailable for immediate comment.