By John Jones
Team GB’s Olympic hopes were given a boost last weekend as two Welsh fighters stormed to victory in their respective classes at the World Taekwondo Grand Prix in Manchester.
Already a six-time gold medallist in the Grand Prix competition, Jade Jones had no problems in adding to her haul, comfortably dispatching China’s Zhou Lijun 11-4 in the final of the -57kg event that she has so famously made her own.
Whilst being given a first round-bye on the last day of competition, however, Jones nearly came unstuck against Latvian teenager Inese Tarvida in her quarter-final. In a fiery opening round, both fighters quickly traded powerful headshots, before Jones raced into a commanding four-point lead, with her opponent seemingly tiring as the bout drew on.
However, as she looked to see the match out, the Flint fighter perhaps allowed complacency to get the better of her, and nearly suffered an embarrassing upset as a ferocious Tarvida closed the gap to two in the dying seconds. Nevertheless, Jones kept her cool, and won a late final point to send her into a semi-final fight against Canadian Skylar Park, which she won comfortably.
With three comprehensive wins under her belt, Jones was equally dominant in her final against Lijun Zhou, building up a 7-1 first-round lead with a series of well-timed front leg kicks. This early onslaught stunned Zhou, who never found her way back into the fight, and as the clock ran down in the final round, the home crowd were on their feet, as Jones clinched gold with an 11-4 victory.
Reflecting on her latest championship win, Jones spoke of the pressures of being world number one and fighting on home turf, claiming that she “was in tears” from nerves on the morning of her first bout, before crediting the clamorous Manchester crowds for her phenomenal performances.
With less than two years to go until the 2020 Games in Tokyo, Jones now has her sights firmly set on achieving a hat-trick of Olympic golds, by adding to those she won in London and Rio de Janeiro. “It’s a long journey, and this is my start and I’m aiming to be the very best version of me at Tokyo,” she told the BBC. “There’s a lot of bumps along the way, but I feel in good shape and I’m constantly improving.”
Someone hoping to join Jones in Tokyo is fellow Welsh fighter Lauren Williams. At just 19 years of age, Williams also took gold at the Grand Prix, this time in the women’s -67kg division, defeating Croatian Matea Jelic 15-10 in a hotly contested final.
Williams was quick out of the blocks, countering her opponent’s attacks with some swift and clinical kicks, and ending the first round with a commanding 7-0 lead. Despite a late fightback from the Croatian, the teenager from Caerphilly was streets ahead, and won a deserved gold, to add to the one she claimed in London last year.
Elsewhere at the tournament, there were mixed fortunes for GB Taekwondo, as Damon Sansum took silver in the men’s -80kg competition, but previous Grand Prix winners Mahama Cho and Lutalo Muhammad were left disappointed.
Cho, who also won World Championship bronze last year, crashed out in the last 16 following a narrow defeat to Turkey’s Emre Aresli, whilst double Olympic medallist Muhammad bowed out in the quarter-finals of his heavyweight debut.