Already a modern great, Jones is within touching distance of Team GB and taekwondo history
Jade Jones recently recalled how, while locked down with Great Britain teammate and three-time 73kg world champion Bianca Walkden, she would duel with her housemate in a makeshift dojang, two of the world’s best taekwondo practitioners engaging in garage combat to spar and spur each other on towards Tokyo 2020.
Which of us haven’t had a fracas or two with our housemates in the last year and a half or so? As it turned out, the odd bloody lip here and bruised ego there proved fine preparation indeed as the pair kept their fitness up, motivation high and minds focused as they worked towards a common goal. From the disappointment of a delayed Olympic Games, the two best friends and housemates head to Tokyo with every chance of each bringing back gold.
Jones already has two to adorn the mantlepiece at their Manchester home. Out of the Flint Pavilion Leisure Centre in North Wales that now bears her name has emerged a modern Olympic great. She competes in Japan with the chance of making history: no British female Olympian has ever won three consecutive gold medals; no taekwondo fighter of any nationality has yet matched what she may achieve.
If victory as a 19-year-old at the ExCel Centre in London came as a surprise, a stunning triumph four years later in Rio really shouldn’t have. The girl introduced to taekwondo by her grandfather after finding other sporting pursuits undesirable has developed into one of the world’s finest martial artists.
She again competes in Tokyo in the featherweight 57kg category, and will face tough opposition. Lee Ah-reum is a former world champion from taekwondo’s homeland of South Korea, while nimble Russian Tatiana Kudashova steps up from the bantamweight category. Much is expected of 22-year-old pair Skylar Park (Canada) and Zhou Lijun (China), beaten semi-finalists as Jones took gold at the 2019 world championships in Manchester.
Yet the woman they call “The Headhunter” is the favourite to defend her crown. At her best Jones is a whirling blur with a penchant for head kicks, three times as valuable as a shot to the body, with an extra point if inflicted on the spin.
Her performance in the gold medal final five years ago showed an athlete capable of raising her game for the big occasion, Jones outlasting Spain’s Eva Calvo in an outstanding contest, tallying a magnificent 16 points.
Victory in Manchester, her first world title, hinted that Jones, moving into her late twenties, may just be getting better. A career of triumphs – the exultation of home gold in London; the sinking to the knees in Rio glory– may be yet to truly peak.
Her impact in driving participation in what remains a largely niche sport is, perhaps, already being felt. Alongside Walkden and Jones among Team GB’s medal contenders in Tokyo is Bradley Sinden, a 22-year-old who also took his first world title in Manchester.
Alongside them, Lauren Williams will be competing at her first Olympic Games, having being inspired to switch to the sport by compatriot Jones’s exploits while watching taekwondo for the first time at London 2012.
Jones’s legacy will matter little to the Welshwoman in the cut and thrust of close combat. Jones has previously suggested that this will be her final Olympics, but recent reports suggest that one last tilt in Paris in 2024 is becoming a more and more realistic possibility. She is not alone in considering a final push for gold – the condensed Olympic cycle is attractive for athletes beginning to contemplate their futures.
For now, though, Tokyo and gold medal number three is the focus. This is an era of great British Olympians, a team more competitive than ever across the broad multisporting spectrum, with Laura and Jason Kenny set to break records (and mantlepieces) on their bikes and Adam Peaty as dominant as any in the pool. Dina Asher-Smith continues to blaze trails around the bend, and Max Whitlock will pivot around the pommel horse looking to retain his own title.
Yet should she triumph once more in the domain of the dobok at Makuhari Messe, a third taekwondo gold medal for Jade Jones will rank alongside the greatest British Olympic triumphs of all.