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Headhunter Jones deliver silver service at Rome Grand Prix

June 7, 2022

Jade Jones in action in the octagon.

Double Olympic gold medallist Jade Jones was the pick of GB Taekwondo’s fighters competing at the World Taekwondo Grand Prix in Rome.

The Welsh star shrugged off any lingering disappointment from the recent European Championships to claim silver in the -57kg division.

Three of Jones’ teammates, Bradly Sinden, Rebecca McGowan and Grand Prix debutant, Caden Cunningham, gained bronze medals.

And while there were no gold medals for the Manchester trained squad, all athletes gained valuable experience adapting to new rules brought in by World Taekwondo, the sport’s governing body, on June 1.

These include contests being stopped after two rounds if a fighter wins both which is the fate suffered by Jones, 29, in her final.

The world champion from Flint lost the opening round 13-5 against Zongshi Luo with her Chinese rival clinching gold by winning the second 12-5.

But the ‘Headhunter’ enjoyed the satisfaction of beating Tokyo 2020 champion Anastasija Zolotic in the semi-finals.

Zolotic won the first round 17-11 before Jones powered back to win the final two with an aggregate of 20-9. She also defeated Korean rival, Ahreum Lee in the last eight.

World champion Sinden showed his fighting spirit in the -68kg quarter-finals against Zaid Alhalawani.

The Doncaster fighter conceded 20 points in the opening three minutes before blasting back to win rounds two and three by six- and five-point margins.

His bid for the GP title, however, ended in a high scoring semi-final against Turkey’s Hakan Recber.

Cunningham’s consistency during 2022 deserted him at the Europeans but he bounced back in style to achieve another podium finish in the Italian capital.

The Huddersfield prospect dropped only two points in his first fight with Rio 2016 Olympian Ruslan Zhaparov of Uzbekistan and just five in his last 16 bout with Norwegian Milos Pilipovic.

And he qualified for the semi-finals without dropping a round courtesy of a 2-0 win against Spain’s Daniel Ros Gomez.

His final fight was a close affair with newly-crowned European heavyweight champion, Emre Atelsi, only for the Turk to finish a 14-10 winner.

Caden Cunningham ringside.

“Adapting to the new rules was fun,” said Cunningham. “The only issue was the inconsistency on certain interpretations which is a shame at such a high level of competition.

“But it was amazing to win my first Grand Prix medal. Stepping on the podium was surreal because I have seen so many of my teammates on there before and it is something I have dreamed about.

“Paris 2024 is the goal for me,” added Cunningham. “And a realistic one.”

GB Taekwondo’s final medal came from Scot McGowan competing at +67kg. She breezed past Israel’s Dana Azran in her first match, knocked out Cansel Deniz of Uzbekistan in the last 16 before overcoming South Korea’s Mi-na Myeong 26-12.

However, like Cunningham and Sinden, the Dumbarton star couldn’t progress to the final and lost 15-4 against Crystal Weekes of Puerto Rico.

There was a rare off day for triple world champion Bianca Walkden. The Liverpool star, who achieved a record-breaking fourth Euro crown 10 days earlier, lost 14-10 against Spain’s Tania Castineira in the last 16.

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