Aaliyah Powell is aiming for Paris 2024 - but first, she must beat an Olympic taekwondo great

British taekwondo star Aaliyah Powell may only be 19, however she already has a World Championship medal to her name. With Paris 2024 on the horizon, her route to the Games requires her to outdo double Olympic champion and GB teammate Jade Jones in the -57kg category. 

Picture by 2019 Getty Images

When people talk about British taekwondo, the first name on people’s lips is more often than not Jade Jones. The 29-year-old has been a dominant force in her sport, with memorable Olympic gold-medal runs; first at her home Games at London 2012 and then once again at Rio 2016.

However, with Paris 2024 two years away, one British teenager is looking to take some of the limelight away from her highly decorated teammate. To achieve that, she’ll need to outdo Jones in a weight category the latter has made her own: -57kg.

Aaliyah Powell may only be 19, however her progress through the ranks of Taekwondo has been little short of astonishing.

In 2019, aged just 16, she won bronze at the senior World Championship in the -53kg category, becoming Britain’s youngest-ever gold medallist in the competition’s history, breaking the record that formerly belonged to Jones.

“There was no pressure because I am one of the youngest people in the competition,” she said after her medal win that year in Manchester, before adding confidently, “But in my own mind I know my own ability.”

Three years on from making waves at those Worlds, Powell has Paris 2024 in her sights. But having now moved up to -57kg and with only one spot available for Team GB in the weight category, her only route to the Olympics goes straight through Jones.

From fearful beginnings to a fearless fighter

Powell wasn’t always the formidable fighter she now is.

When she started taekwondo, she was nervous about the combat side of the sport. She preferred Poomsea - a discipline in some ways similar to karate’s kata where the athlete faces an imaginary opponent and performs movements in a regulated order.

"My coach would have to stand behind me and force me to fight people otherwise I'd run away," she told the BBC in a recent interview.

"As I got older the tactical elements hooked me though, and once I got over the fear of fighting, I progressed very quickly."

Fast-forward to 2019 and even though Powell had performed well on the junior stage - winning gold in the Junior World Championship in 2018, her participation at the seniors was by no means part of her plans.

"I was still a junior athlete, I wasn't full-time and my dad just put the application in on a whim on the last day it could be submitted," she told the BBC.

"I didn't think I'd get the pick and when I did, I was shocked and didn't want to do it.

"In fact, I said 'I'm not doing it!' because when you're a junior taking on seniors it is really daunting and I was scared."

However, after beating Greece’s Christianna Tyrologou, she went on to achieve a memorable victory against Morocco’s Oumaima El Bouchiti to earn a spot in the semi-final.

Just two wins away from gold, Powell finally succumbed in a competition eventually won by Jones, who added her first world taekwondo title to her double Olympic gold.

Aaliyah Powell (right) celebrates victory in the -53kg category at the 2019 World Taekwondo Championships 
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Paris 2024 - the battle for qualification

Team GB has a strong history in the sport of taekwondo, with Jones joined in the British team by three-time world champion and double Olympic bronze medallist Bianca Walkden and Rio 2016 silver medallist Lutalo Muhammad.

However, in a cut-throat sport where only one athlete per weight category can qualify for the Games, Powell will have to take the next step up to secure a place at Paris 2024.

"We're the same weight, only one of us can go [to the Olympics]. I'm looking to achieve it for the first time and obviously she's been really successful for a long time," she told the BBC, referring to her upcoming battles with Jones.

"It's hard for both of us but I think we both really push one another and make each other better."

However, it bodes well for Britain that with one athlete entering the latter stages of her career, they have a prospect on their hands who is ready to light up the world stage for many years to come.

And Powell has no doubts about what she wants to achieve. When asked by GB Taekwondo what her goals are, her answer was simple.

“To become the Olympic Champion and win gold at every major competition.”

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