Mahama Cho

Mahama Cho booted a promising football career into touch to concentrate on becoming a taekwondo champion.

And this weekend the former Erith Town midfielder aims to fulfil his goal of becoming Olympic heavyweight gold medallist.

Should Cho, who celebrated his 27th birthday on Tuesday, succeed he will be expecting a ‘well done’ text from one-time mentor Kolo Toure.

“I bet you think I am crazy for choosing taekwondo over football,” says the Ivory Coast born, London raised GB Academy favourite.

“And I loved my football; the banter, being with the lads. It was one of my passions,” enthused the former Dagenham & Redbridge trialist.

“However, in football you need 11 players to be upto scratch. But taekwondo was all me so I had to put in the hard work.

“If I lost, it was because of me. I didn’t point the finger at anyone else. That’s made me love the sport even more.

“I am really happy I made the decision because the grafting and hard work is paying off. This (competing at the Olympics) represents a lot of things for me.”

Cho agrees he owes a debt of gratitude to many people for getting him to Rio. His grandma in Africa for taking care of him while his father was away in Saudi Arabia; his dad for bringing him to England at the age of eight and instilling in him manners and discipline; his step mum, Susan Bishop, for her love and support and the friendship and guidance of step brother, David.

Then there was Celtic defender Toure, a fellow Ivorian and Muslim.

“When Kolo played for Arsenal he would attend Peckham mosque and speak to the community,” explained Cho.

“He always gave me strong advice. One of his key messages which has stayed with me was:’ Whatever comes to you in life always be humble.’

“He is a humble and down to earth person. I value what he says a lot because he is an inspirational person

“Then there is dad who was always strict on education; on how to being a gentleman and how to treat people.

“If he hadn’t controlled me like he did then I wouldn’t be the person I am today. There were no short cuts, no zig zags.

“If I have to get hurt to learn that’s how it’s got to be. That’s the character I am.”

Cho was hurt when he didn’t automatically qualify the heavyweight (+80kg) slot for Great Britain. Instead, the former World Grand Prix champion travelled to Turkey back in January-and knowing he had to make the final-duly won the European Olympic qualification tournament.

But the ‘Stockwell Slayer’ does have a tough opening match. Opposing him is London 2012 silver medallist and 2013 world champion, Anthony Obame, Gabon’s flag bearer at Rio’s opening ceremony.

Having overcome schoolboy bullying, survived being run over by a car, overcome a career threatening injury and uncertainty over his Olympic spot, Cho isn’t going to allow the prospect of his Games debut to trouble him.

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