Hall Rallies GB Stars For ‘Massive’ Year Ahead
Performance Director Gary Hall says there is “excitement tempered with real focus” at the start of a massive year for GB Taekwondo stars.
Hall highlights the WTF World Championship in Russia and the inaugural European Games in Azerbaijan as two main targets for 2015 with the ultimate goal of selection for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Seven members of Hall’s squad are in action at this weekend’s US Open including London 2012 bronze medallist, Lutalo Muhammad though, Olympic gold medallist, Jade Jones, will delay her first competitive outing this year.
And after four medals at last weekend’s Greek Open, including gold for Tony Stephenson and silver for comeback queen, Bianca Walkden, there is plenty of expectation of more success in the coming days.
“The whole team-athletes and staff-are getting focused to the importance of this year,” confirms Hall. “Any ranking points earned are going to be of maximum value.
“We have got 19 months left of an Olympic cycle and this 12 months will be a big springboard to anyone who has real aspirations for Rio.
“We have sent a team to Greece, we have got a team at the US this weekend and another squad going out to Bosnia at the end of the month.
“Straight after there are tournaments in Turkey, we’re going to Luxor like we did last year and the Dutch Open. We then have training camps for final preparations for the World Championships.
“For the first time also, we have the European Games on our calendar which is another event for us in terms of ranking points and also a credible high performance tournament.
“We had a good start to Greece especially with Tony getting gold and 10 ranking points. In the countdown to an Olympic year it was a really good step for him.”
Hall was delighted by Walkden (+73kg) in her first competition back from last July’s anterior cruciate knee ligament injury and inexperienced WTF practitioner, Jade Slavin, (-73).
“The focus for Bianca was always recovering from her ACL and to be ready for the World Championships. Last weekend was another test for her towards her on-going rehabilitation programme and she came out of it really well.
“Jade beat the Olympic champion on the way to bronze which was an amazing performance for someone new into the programme.
“This weekend we have got a very experienced team in the US and we’re looking for some solid performances.”
Damon Sansum contests -80kg, as does Aaron Cook, whilst Muhammad moves up a weight to -87kg. All remain in the mix for Rio 2016 selection.
“This weight category is one of the strongest for GB and it is going to be a very exciting year,” says Hall.
“Lutalo is very conscious of what lies ahead. He has worked really hard but so has Damon while Andy Deer is also in that Olympic -80kg bracket.
“It is going to be a hot category. But the value of hot competition can’t be overstated. It is a key fundamental in getting Olympic medals in 2016.”
Golden girl Jones finished the year as World Grand Prix series champion, WTF female athlete of the year and world number two.
“Jade enjoyed a fantastic year in 2014,” agrees Hall. “She is now in the gym working on new things and that work is key to her.
“We know she doesn’t need to go crazy. She just needs to be at her best for the majors and her major this year is the World Championship.”
*There will be live streaming of the action from the US Open via the GB Taekwondo website www.gbtaekwondo.co.uk
Friday, January 23:
-74kg: Ruebyn Richards (Nottingham)
-80kg: Damon Sansum (Elgin)
-87kg: Lutalo Muhammad (Walthamstow)
+87kg: Mahama Cho (Stockwell)
Saturday, January 24
-63kg: Jordan Gayle (Manchester)
-68kg: Christian McNeish (Plaistow), Martin Stamper (Liverpool)