Taekwondo might not be the most well known of the combat sports at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, but British fighter Jade Jones is helping to ensure its popularity is constantly on the rise.
Of course, boxing has a worldwide fanbase and will be followed much more closely at the Games – and there will be many people out there unfamiliar with the rules of Taekwondo.
But take one look at Jade Jones in action and you’ll need no further convincing about the quality she brings to this brand of martial arts, and as its poster girl the strides she had made in elevating the sport are admirable.
Taekwondo star Jade Jones is seeking a third gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics this summer
The British star has made admirable strides to increase taekwondo’s profile in the UK
She announced herself at the London 2012 Games, winning gold and earning a legion of fans
The fact the 28-year-old is hunting down her third gold medal in Tokyo this year comes as no surprise whatsoever, even if gaining global recognition remains increasingly difficult no how many medals are around her neck.
While London 2012’s legacy is remembered by the ‘Super Saturday’ heroes of Dame Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford on August 4, young Jones was quietly going about her business just days later.
She cruised her way to the Taekwondo final at the ExCel centre – beating China’s Hou Yuzhuo by six points to four to claim gold.
Her success earned her overnight fame and coincided with a dramatic uptake in youngsters getting involved in Taekwondo, as well as drawing in a new group of supporters who had witnessed her triumph – but even she could never predicted how dominant she would become.
Jones won overnight fame and her success coincided with an uptake in youngsters getting involved with taekwondo
Nearly a decade on, Jones is running out of room for all her medals – the latest being a third straight European gold in April, just the kind of momentum she needs to take into Tokyo as she seeks to become the first Taekwondo competitor to win three Olympic golds on the trot.
Jones followed up her London heroics with another gold medal at Rio 2016 and now has history in her sights, but has no plan to call time on her career if she does scoop her third gold in Japan, admitting the prospect of a shorter time period until Paris 2024 is tempting.
‘I was thinking this would be the last Olympics, but [coach] Martin [Stamper] said that by the time we finish, it will only be two years to go until the next one!’ Jones said in April.
‘If I won in Tokyo, I’ll have so many points already I’ll only need a few more to qualify for Paris.’
JADE JONES MBE
Born: 1993, Bodelwyddan, Wales
Height: 5 ft 6
Weight: 126 lb
Nickname: The Headhunter
Olympic golds: London 2012, Rio 2016
European golds: Montreux 2016, Kazan 2018
Jones – who was named in Team GB’s taekwondo squad for Tokyo alongside Bianca Walkden and Bradly Sinden, was born in Bodelwyddan, Wales, in 1993.
She grew up on a council estate before being urged to get into taekwondo by her grandfather at the age of eight.
She is grateful for her humble origins, and feels the sport is inclusive to people of all backgrounds – something that helped springboard her onto the road to make history as an Olympian.
‘As a team, we’ve come from all kinds of different backgrounds and places,’ said the 28-year-old.
‘We’re a family. We’re in it together and we struggle together, train together and win together. Certain sports don’t take a lot of money to do and we’re one of them.
‘To start taekwondo you can just do kicks in the air, you don’t need anything to start off and practice and it’s the same with boxing.
‘It’s an amazing sport for people who aren’t well off and to still make it to the top.
‘I come from a council estate and it’s amazing to see those kinds of stories, to see that no matter what background you’ve come from, you can make it.’
Jones is the nO 1 ranked female taekwondo fighter in the world at her weight division of 57kg, with 519 points.
Jones is grateful for her humble origins having grown up on a council estate before being urged to take up the sport by her grandfather at the age of eight
Her dazzling career has seen her pick up 15 gold medals, seven silvers and four bronze across the Olympics, world championships, European championships, Grand Prix and youth games.
She might not get the same recognition that the top Olympians do, but she has gone a long way to raising her profile, both in and out of being an athlete.
Her efforts at London 2012 saw her named Wales Sports Personality of the Year – beating off competition from cyclist Geraint Thomas – and SHE was awarded with an MBE by the Queen the following year, with her rank later being lifted to OBE in 2020.
Away from sport, she’s taken steps to get her name out there with a handful of TV appearances – swapping taekwondo for winter sports as she tried her luck on Channel 4 show The Jump.
Jones has made an effort to raise her profile – making a TV appearance on The Jump in 2017
She also featured in Celebs Go Dating the next year alongside Gemma Collins and Ollie Locke
She’s also been a contestant on the Celebrity Chase and Celebs Go Dating. She wasn’t able to find love on that show – and her rise to fame also coincided with some strange requests from admirers.
‘I get loads of random presents through the door which is nice,’ she told the Sun in 2018. ‘And I’ve had people tweet that they’re sat behind me on the train and I’m like, “oh my God”. ‘I find it hard to trust people because you don’t whether they want you because you’re an Olympic champion or not.’
She added: ‘I get people who just want me to kick them in the face.
‘They say “kick me in the head”. I’m not going to kick them in the head. And they’re like, “no please honestly kick me in the head”. ‘I think they think it’d be cool to be kicked in the head or something. I want cuddles not kicks.’
Jade, who is now in relationship with her former taekwondo team-mate Jordan Gayle, is nicknamed ‘The Headhunter’ due to her tendency to kick her opponents in the head rather than the body. Contestants can score three points for a kick to the head, four for a spinning kick to the head, but only one for striking the body.
Jones has enjoyed her rise that has seen her named as an MBE by the Queen in 2013
Jones is nicknamed ‘The Headhunter’ due to her tendency to go for the head rather than body
She admitted she has been affected by training in tough conditions while in lockdown
It’s that ambition and precision that’s helped her become the top female taekwondo fighter in the world.
Having spent the last year in lockdown with her flatmate – fellow world champion Walkden – and boyfriend Gayle, Jade is now looking ahead to making history in Japan, even though she struggled with the mental challenge of keeping her spirits high when the Games were first postponed.
‘I didn’t think it would affect me,’ Jones told the BBC last summer. ‘It’s felt like I’ve been retired a little bit. It’s been tough.
‘Athletes always have a goal and you wake up every day with that one thing, you literally know why you’re waking up and what you’re going to training for.
‘But to wake up and think “what am I doing, what competition?”
She hopes to make history in Japan by adding another gold to her Rio triumph in 2016 as she bids become the first Taekwondo competitor to win three Olympic golds on the trot
She quickly turned her garage into a taekwondo studio – heading to the National Academy to take equipment back home and laying down mats and weights to get her new-look training regime up and running.
The pandemic has added another layer of pressure to her task but she insists she has nothing to prove in the sport, and says she has developed a ‘thick skin’ during the ups and downs of her career.
‘I’m still learning along the way. I’m not perfect at it. But I try to think that everything I’ve won so far no one can take it away from me,’ told Glamour magazine. ‘Whereas, when I did used to struggle, I was fighting to prove something or fighting because I’m the Olympic champion. Whereas now if I lose, no one can take them away, I’ve already got them.
‘I just try to see it as a new thing and a new goal, as if it’s a level playing field and I’m just another person trying to get that gold medal.
Jones admitted she has learned to deal with pressure and is fully focused on success in Japan – with her sights already pinned on a fourth gold at Paris 2024
‘I think being an athlete you do have to deal with a lot including pressure, the ups and downs, an injury coming along, or you get ill, or you lose. So many different scenarios are constantly being thrown at you, so I think you do get a thick skin and you’re quicker at being able to handle it and bounce of situations.
‘But I’m just human, and like everyone else, the quarantine is hard. Everyone gets anxiety. I’m missing my family. I still feel all that, but just know how to handle it.’
Jones has come a long way since she burst onto the scene at London 2012, but winning a third gold in Tokyo will help her get the recognition she deserves after a stunning career and inspiring an entire new generation to take up taekwondo.
Should she carry on and win a forth gold in Paris, she’ll do down in Team GB folklore.