Taekwondo Joins The Army To Recruit Future Olympic Stars
Combat sport took on a whole new meaning when 12 Army recruits signed up for taekwondo training in Manchester this week.
For one or more their introduction to this ancient martial art could be the start of a new career as an Olympic sportswoman.
And they were in a good place to take their first steps and kicks. The GB Academy training gym at Eastlands is where London 2012 golden girl, Jade Jones, began her journey to stardom.
The determined dozen included several officer cadets and colleagues from backgrounds in netball, triathlon and horse riding. They were the latest recruits to a ground breaking talent identification programme launched last year by UK Sport, the English Institute of Sport and the British Army.
The Army Elite Sports Programme (AESP) aims to discover athletes who can be fast-tracked to fill talent gaps in existing World Class Performance Programmes of sports such as taekwondo, weight-lifting and boxing.
GB Taekwondo has already embarked on another recruitment drive through its successful and separate ‘Fighting Chance’ initiative for females to add strength in depth at heavyweight level. More than 100 hopefuls will be put through their paces this weekend.
“With our heavier females we have to look outside the box because we have not got enough within our own sport,” confirmed triple world champion and Beijing 2008 bronze medallist, Sarah Stevenson, who joined forces with Siva Ramasamy, instructor at the successful Gurumu club in London, to take charge of the Army assessment day.
“It is the first time we have done this so it is exciting to see where it can go. Usually with ‘Fighting Chance’ athletes have already done martial arts. But 95 percent of these girls knew nothing about taekwondo.
“However, if you actually walked into the gym you wouldn’t think that because they were learning very quickly and making our jobs much easier. We added on things already we didn’t think we would be able to do.”
GB Performance Director, Gary Hall, also dropped in to run the rule over potential future internationals.
“We have never done anything like this before but if it works we believe there are potentially some good combat girls who can come across and do well,” he said.
“But we are only interested in athletes who have got the possibility to make the Olympics in the end whether that be Tokyo 2020 or beyond.
“There is the possibility we could expand the Programme out to male athletes in the future. But let’s see if it works for the women’s first.
“Following this assessment day we will then decide if there is anyone suitable to take forward and to build a programme around them, either at their base or in Manchester “
London 2012 and 2014 World rowing champion, Captain Heather Stanning, who has combined her elite sport success with a career in the Army, is seen as a prime example of the talent that exists within the ranks.
The taekwondo testing day and others in different sports was the culmination of earlier assessments at nine UK garrison towns plus bases in Germany and Cyprus. More than 350 girls were involved.
So too was EIS Performance Pathway scientist, Neasa Russell, who travelled to Manchester for this latest step of the journey to Olympic athlete.
“This comes off the back of the Girls for Gold campaign we ran in the army,” she explained. “The intention was to up skill the army on how we have gone about recruiting high performance athletes in other sports; while at the same time looking for female athletes for several sports we knew were short in.
“This is an introduction to taekwondo and also to establish a link between the army taekwondo club and GB Taekwondo Talent pathway.
“We are trying to establish opportunities within the Army for the girls to try out for other sports at point of entry. Then, if the athlete is good enough and the sport thinks there is potential, the Army will wrap career management around that athlete. So, in tandem to developing in the sport they can develop in the army appropriately.”
*The £1.4m pound AESP project is being funded by money raised by troops providing security during the London 2012 Olympics.