High Hopes For GB Athletes At Grand Prix Finals After Altitude Acclimatisation
Great Britain Taekwondo stars have been sleeping on the job to make sure they are in the best possible shape for this weekend’s WTF World Taekwondo Grand Prix finals in Mexico City.
Olympic champion and world number one Jade Jones, World Championship gold medallist, Bianca Walkden, London 2012 bronze medallist, Lutalo Muhammad, and World Championship silver medallist, Damon Sansum, compete in the annual end of year event that carries significant weight towards 2016 Rio Olympic qualification.
To help their preparations the quartet spent nights in ‘tents’ to represent the altitude levels they will face in Central America over the coming days.
Liverpudlian Walkden, who has medalled at all three 2015 Grand Prix’s, including Manchester back in October, said: “It was hard sometimes but we got used to it in the end. It was just like sleeping in a den when I was a child.”
Heavyweight Walkden, 24, finished with a silver medal in Manchester and Samsun, Turkey and is determined to go one better at the last tournament of 2015. “Gold is the only colour to go for, “she says of Sunday’s +67kg campaign.
Sansum has struggled for his best form since his stunning World performances in Chelyabinsk and lost to GB rival Lutalo Muhammad at the -80kg quarter-final stage in Manchester.
But the bearded Scot is optimistic he can turn his form around. “You learn lessons at every tournament and carry them forward to the next one,” explains the 28-year-old. “I will sacrifice quarters in the last two to win the last one. I reckon this is going to be a good one for me and I am really excited.
“Sleeping in the tents is a big commitment,” he confirms. “But spending nine hours a night has helped our preparation for Mexico.
“And the chamber training got us used to doing your kicks and sparring without as much oxygen. So, the last five weeks has been really tough but we are in the best possible shape.”
Both Brits are boosted by the non-appearance of Iran’s world number one, Mahdi Khodabakhshi. However, Moldova’s Aaron Cook, Russian Albert Gaun and Khodabakhshi’s compatriot, Masoud Haijzavareh, are three threats in the eight man line-up.
“There are only a couple of the guys I have not fought in this division,” adds Sansum. “It’s just a question of focusing on my own strategy and performance so hopefully your A game beats their A game.”
Confident Muhammad finished with silver in Manchester, losing to surprise finalist Oussama Oueslati of Tunisia after beating Khodabakhshi 9-5. “It is the last event of the year so I am putting everything into it,” confirmed the ‘Walthamstow Warrior.’
“Training has been fantastic and the preparation has been excellent. I just can’t wait to hopefully have a gold medal round my neck and a sombrero on my head.
“Sleeping in the altitude tent has been an interesting experience. It has been difficult at times but you have to stick with it.
“It gives us an advantage over the other teams because I don’t think many will be doing what we’ve done.”
Golden girl Jones aims to cap a memorable year at -57kg with another Grand Prix title. She won in Samsun and Manchester while collecting silver in Moscow. The Welsh star’s all conquering 12 months also includes a European Games gold plus other victories in Turkey, Switzerland and Holland.
In last year’s Grand Prix finals series she avenged a succession of defeats against Spanish rival, Eva Calvo Gomez, to win the competition before being voted WTF Female Taekwondo Athlete of the Year. She’ll settle for a repeat performance at the Juan de la Barrera Olympic Gymnasium on Sunday night.
-80kg: Lutalo Muhammad (Walthamstow), Damon Sansum (Elgin)
-57kg: Jade Jones (Flint)
+67kg: Bianca Walkden (Liverpool)