Picture by 2016 Getty Images

What makes double Olympic taekwondo champion Jade Jones tick?

Pressure can overwhelm but for Great Britain's first Olympic taekwondo gold medallist it's crucial to her success.
By Chloe Merrell

“Can I be the chosen one?” taekwondo athlete Jade Jones asks lightly, speaking to Olympics.com.

“Because I do believe so much that that can be me.”

It’s a question that many great athletes shy away from. For the three-time European taekwondo champion it’s the kind of self-interrogation she takes seriously, and with good reason.

The 28-year-old will head to Tokyo looking to re-write the history books once again.

With the way the Olympic Games are scheduled this year, Jones could become the first taekwondo athlete and the first female Briton ever to win a trio of successive titles following on from her gold medals at London 2012 and Rio 2016. It would be a phenomenal feat.

“I think it does add pressure,” Jones continues reflecting on the significance of what she stands to achieve. “But also, like I said, it excites me just to be in this position to try and do something that no one's ever done.”

Family first

How is it that Jones came to be such an unshakeable force, and what drives her relentless pursuit of taekwondo supremacy?

It all began with Jones’ grandfather: Martin Foulkes.

Seeing a young Jones start to misbehave, Foulkes believed that the then 8-year-old needed a positive outlet to channel her energy. After having pushed her to try other sports he sent his granddaughter to a taekwondo taster session.

Jones fell in love with the sport immediately and never stopped. At 16, she left school to take up the martial art full-time.

As the Team GB athlete’s career took off, Jones’ family were soon following her pursuits around the world. The London Olympics was conveniently on the doorstep; Rio required saving up for.

Perhaps the best way to reflect Jones’ admiration for her family, and particularly her grandfather who started it all, is knowing that he is the one entrusted with her two gold medals. She shared:

“I normally give them to my granddad to look after because basically he thinks I'll lose them or break them.”

Motivation not commitment

“It’s not motivation, it’s commitment,” Jones shares with her YouTube channel.

It’s a subtle difference but one that becomes immediately obvious when you study the 2019 taekwondo World Champion’s training schedule.

Jones, nicknamed the ‘Headhunter’, tackles the bulk of her workload Monday through to Friday at the National Taekwondo Centre in Manchester. She splits five hours of training across each weekday. Saturday normally involves yoga or stretching before fully resting on Sunday.

To prepare the gold medal hopeful for the rigour of her competitors, Jones spars against male taekwondo athletes.

Competing in the -57kg division, but typically at 60kg outside of competition, her training partners are much heavier and stronger than she or her eventual opponents are.

It’s a brutal regimen but necessary to handle the weight of expectation she applies.

The highs and lows of lockdown

Like all Olympic athletes grappling with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Welsh fighter suffered ups and downs. She openly struggled with managing her weight and maintaining the intensity of her training.

Her and housemate Bianca Walkden, a fellow Team GB athlete and three-time taekwondo World Champion in the +67kg division, transformed their garage into a gym so that the two could train together while facilities were temporarily closed.

Although workout conditions were less than optimal, Walkden’s partner Aaron Cook, another British taekwondo athlete, pushed the Olympians to progress.

One positive of lockdown was that Jones was able to rehabilitate an injury that threatened her Tokyo 2020 hopes. The medial collateral ligament (MCL) tear she sustained in February last year is now no longer a danger.

Another upside was the time to reflect and relax. During down time, Walkden and Jones couldn’t help still competing against one other; board games and video games fed their competitive spirits.

Three is the magic number

After securing her third European gold in April of this year and being selected to represent Britain for a third time, Jones’ chances of a getting her third, successive gold look strong. She will go into the Games as the number one seed.

The double Olympic champion has already created history, the question now is: what form will her legacy take?