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LIVERPUDLIAN WALKDEN AIMS FOR FAB FOUR HIT AT EUROS

Bianca Walkden & Paul Green 3
Bianca Walkden puts her unbeaten 2016 record on the line this week when she begins the defence of her European Championship title in Montreux, Switzerland. (May 19-22).

But the Liverpool heavyweight insists she feels no extra pressure going into the final major competition before this summer’s Rio Olympic Games.

Walkden, who won her Euro crown at Baku in 2014, has trampled over her opposition in the +73kg weight division this year, collecting victories at the Dutch and German Opens plus the inaugural President’s Cup.

Now, the reigning World Champion is ready for another shot at glory though an Olympic debut remains her greatest goal.

“If other athletes are scared of me because of what I have done, that’s down to them,” says the 24-year-old Great Britain star. “I just want to turn up and fight and live for the moment.

“Of course, I still get a bit nervous before every tournament and that’s normal. But I don’t put any pressure on myself.

“I want to go out and enjoy it and to try and keep getting better and better.”

Walkden is part of a 15-strong GB Taekwondo squad including Olympic Champion, Jade Jones, World Grand Prix series gold medallist, Lutalo Muhammad, 2014 European silver medallist, Damon Sansum plus teenage newcomers, Bradly Sinden and Hassan Haider.

They help swell the total number of competitors to 387 at the 22nd staging of the European Championships.

Haider, 17, from Falkirk, has come through the sport’s development pathway to break into the senior ranks this year.

“I still train with the juniors once a month but now a couple of times a week with the seniors,” says the articulate youngster. “I knew it was going to be tough to get selected so I couldn’t believe it at first.

“All I can do is try my best and treat it like any other competition,” adds Haider, a silver medal winner at last month’s German Open.

“I had high expectations going into Germany and the aim was to try and medal. In the end I beat the world number four and got all the way to the final.”

Hassan haider

Portsmouth’s Ben Haines, 22, has more international experience but he too is relishing a big career break.

“It is my first senior major so I am looking forward to the atmosphere,” explained Haines, a three-time medallist in 2015.

“This weight category (-68kg) is very competitive so for me to get selected is a big incentive to go to Switzerland and hopefully do well.”

Lancastrian Rachelle Booth wants a re-match with Turkey’s World Champion, Irem Yaman, in Montreux and plans to make it third time lucky.

The duo have fought at the Dutch Open and President’s Cup with 20-year-old Booth from Wigan twice losing by a single point.

“She definitely knows it isn’t easy when she fights me,” says Booth, a World Championship bronze medallist in 2015.

“I made a mistake against her in sudden death in Germany. I rushed in and conceded the winning point. But it’s better to have done it there than at the Euros.

“My mind set this year has always been to focus on the Euros. All I want right now is to become European champion. I haven’t thought about the Olympics.”

Haider and Feyi Pearce-a bronze medallist at the Dutch and German Opens this year-are the first British male athletes in action on the opening day of the Championships. (Thursday)

BBC TV are showing the Friday, Saturday and Sunday finals online while Friday and Sunday action will also be broadcast via the Red Button service.

 

Schedule:

Thursday, May 19:

Male:

-54kg: Hassan Haider (Falkirk)

-58kg: Feyi Pearce (Croydon)

 

Friday, May 20:

Male:

-63kg: Bradly Sinden (Doncaster)

-68kg: Ben Haines (Portsmouth)

Female

-53kg: Charlie Maddock (Stoke on Trent)

-57kg: Jade Jones (Flint)

 

Saturday, May 21:

Male:

-74kg: Christian McNeish (Plaistow)

-80kg: Lutalo Muhammad (Walthamstow)

Female:

-62kg: Rachelle Booth (Wigan)

-67kg: Lauren Williams (Newport)

 

Sunday, May 22:

Male:

-87kg: Damon Sansum (Elgin)

+87kg: Mahama Cho (Stockwell), Lyle Walker (Law)

Female:

-73kg: Jade Slavin (Consett)

+73kg: Bianca Walkden (Liverpool)

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