The fighter who has made a habit of winning Olympic gold medals has developed a rather more awkward one of losing them.
‘I’m a nightmare,’ says Jade Jones, and it’s a term that can be considered from a pair of perspectives.
For those on the opposite side of a taekwondo mat, Jones is the immovable object who took gold in the 57kg category at the London and Rio Olympics, and in Tokyo could become the first British woman in any sport to win at three successive Games. She’s pretty decent at what she does.
Team GB’s Jade Jones has her eyes firmly set on taekwondo gold at the Tokyo Olympics
But with all that comes the other sort of nightmare. The self-inflicted and recurring one, whereby she is outright terrible at looking after what she fought for. ‘I lose my medals all the time,’ she says.
‘My grandad has them now. He took them off me!’
That’s grandad Martin Foulkes, who didn’t take kindly to Jones smoking aged 10 at home in Flint, Wales and got her into sport instead. Then and now, he’s been steering her straight. She adds: ‘He keeps the medals because I kept losing them.’
It happened twice when she won her first gold at London 2012 — once in a toilet at the Olympic Stadium and another time in the taekwondo hall — and in the years since, they have gone missing in a variety of other locations.
‘I only had it a day the first time in 2012,’ says Jones. ‘It was literally the next day after winning and I was cheering on Lutalo Muhammad (who was winning bronze for Team GB). I just got up and left the box in the stands.
Jones is hoping to become first British woman in any sport to triumph at three straight Games
‘That first time, it was an awful feeling. It’s difficult because you can’t just go and ask for another one. I noticed quite soon each time, maybe within an hour, and I ran back and luckily found it.
‘There was this other time when I was doing a sponsor appearance (after Rio) when I brought the medals for people to have a look at. After about 30 minutes, I didn’t have a clue where they were. Some random guy had them.
‘My family don’t trust me with them now. Even in Rio, we had this one time when I was with my mum in a taxi. The drivers wore replica medals there and we were getting out and my mum started shouting, “Jade, he has your medal”. It wasn’t mine but they don’t think I can keep them safe!’
The 28-year-old has near enough been a guarantee of success in the past decade or so, spanning from
the inaugural 2010 Youth Olympics, where she became the first British athlete to win gold, to the present day, with a further 26 major medals collected in between. Beyond her two Olympic golds, there was a world title in 2019, three European golds — most recently in April — and a record eight Grand Prix victories.
In a stacked 57kg field, where Jones estimates ‘five or six women have a strong chance of winning’, the Welsh fighter will again be favourite for gold in Japan.
If she delivers, the early scheduling of taekwondo in Tokyo will see her secure a 2012-2016-2021 hat-trick ahead of the dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin, rower Helen Glover and cyclist Laura Kenny.
For those on the opposite side of the taekwondo mat, Jones has become the immovable object
Another gold would also make Jones the first taekwondo fighter of any nationality to reach three. Partly for those reasons, she is extremely narrow in what she believes would constitute a good Games.
‘GB female athletes haven’t done three in a row, and it hasn’t been done in taekwondo, so if it’s a gold it’s this big history,’ she explains.
‘I know it’s a tough task, and the fact I have given so much to my preparation means I know I can walk away proud, but to me anything less than a gold is a fail.’
For Jones the challenges of lockdown were mitigated to an extent by living with Bianca Walkden, her British team-mate and a three-time world champion at 73kg. She paints a picture of brutal sparring sessions.
‘We’re great friends,’ says Jones, speaking at an event to promote Optimum Nutrition. ‘But we get competitive with each other and just made a training camp of it in the garage.’
One time in particular the sparring got heated. ‘I had just been coming back from an injury so I was a bit rusty,’ she says.
‘She absolutely whacked me straight in the face and my mouth is bleeding, my teeth are bleeding. I just wanted to get her back and I’m screaming. My initial instinct in those times is to attack.’
Jones celebrates after winning gold in the 57kg category at the Rio Olympics in 2016
Another unexpected bump came from the departure in 2017 of Paul Green, who had been Jones’s coach since her teens. They had fallen out over Jones taking part in Channel 4’s The Jump series in 2016, but that had been patched up by the time he suddenly left and took up a position with the US team.
‘That was hard,’ she says. ‘I’d been with him since I was about 14 and it becomes like family. I did think, “God, I’m never going to be as good again now”. But I’m in a good place now with my set-up.’
Whether that is good enough for another gold is not yet known. Likewise, if she can keep hold of it this time.
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