GB Taekwondo bosses have today (Tuesday) launched a new nationwide talent spotting initiative designed to turn martial arts fighters into potential Olympic champions. And Rio 2016 might not be too soon for some successful candidates as the sport aims to match and better the gold and bronze medals won by Jade Jones and Lutalo Muhammad at London 2012.
This is the third time in five years the Manchester based governing body has turned to its successful ‘Fighting Chance’ programme in search of athletes seeking new challenges and dreaming of representing Great Britain at an Olympic Games.
Londoner Muhammad, 2014 European Championship silver medallist, Damon Sansum and newly crowned Commonwealth champion, Andrew Deer were from the inaugural ‘Fighting Chance’ intake. Welsh teenager Lauren Williams, the current WTF World Junior champion, Youth Olympics bronze medallist, Christian McNeish, and Commonwealth gold medallist, Rachelle Booth, have already graduated with honours from the second, ‘Battle4Brazil’ intake.
However, unlike the previous two schemes, this latest initiative is weight specific-heavyweight to be exact. So, it is a massive opportunity for high achieving kick boxers, Thai boxers, mixed martial arts exponents and karate experts to solve a big problem GB chiefs and coaches have wrestled with in recent years. In addition, athletes already well schooled in WTF style Taekwondo are not excluded from this new project as the sport’s popularity continues to grow, boosted by its Olympic status and the introduction of the WTF World Grand Prix series.
“In Mahama Cho and Bianca Walkden we have got two outstanding heavyweights in our World Class Performance programme,” explained GB Performance Director, Gary Hall. “And they operate in a weight category where there is a lot of opportunity.
“A good athlete with good standard and good approach can make podiums very quickly,” added Hall. “After working with the last two Fighting Chance initiatives, it is clear ITF Taekwondo and kick boxing is where the majority of our talent transfer athletes are coming from. But having followed karate, mixed martial arts, Thai boxing I know there is other talent out there that hasn’t yet been discovered. Perhaps due to the old days of Bruce Lee where athletes were seen as fast, short and agile, that’s what candidates think we are looking for. But actually we want heavyweights because there is a huge opportunity to become Olympic champion in a short space of time. There are spaces available because there are serious medal opportunities. If we get six females in this category we will snap them up and we would do damage very quickly. And we still have two or three spaces for heavyweight males.”
Sarah Stevenson, 31, remains the only Briton to win a heavyweight Taekwondo Olympic medal, capturing bronze at Beijing 2008. The three time senior world champion is now a GB Taekwondo coach and featured prominently in the last search for a star.
“‘Fighting Chance’ does produce results; we just need heavier people to apply and get involved,” confirmed Stevenson.
“If you kick in your sport and you think there is a possibility you could make the grade, just apply. The term ‘heavy’ probably doesn’t sit so well, especially with females. But if you have got loads of medals round your neck who cares what weight you are fighting at!”
Stevenson fought at -67kg (or approximately 10 stones 5lbs) while the heavyweight requirement for men is +80kg or 12st 5lbs. Athletes aged between 14-26 are invited to apply from today.
The application deadline is February 2, 2015 with phase one talent assessment, testing dates in Manchester scheduled for February 21 and 22. A week long residential boot camp for successful applicants will follow.
Bianca Walkden, current European champion and former world number two, says:
“People who have come in from ‘Fighting Chance’ in the past have done a great job. Damon has been transformed into a taekwondo player from kick boxing and is now one of the best in his weight category. People who have got it and who want it will come in and take their chance. If you are good at something it will shine through,” said the 23-year-old from Liverpool. I am in the heavyweight category and it doesn’t bother me one bit as long as I win. It doesn’t mean I can’t kick, be agile or be as fast as anyone else in a lighter weight.”
For further information on how to apply please go to the website www.gbtaekwondo.co.uk/fightingchance.html
Twitter @gbtaekwondo #fightingchance2015