Olympic champion Cheick Sallah Cisse gives thanks to Dad and Didier Drogba

Cote d'Ivoire's first Olympic champion reveals what inspires him ahead of his bid for a first World Taekwondo Championships medal in Manchester.

By Evelyn Watta

Whenever he takes to the mat, Cheick Sallah Cisse is fulfilling his father's dream.

Unable to take his love of taekwondo further due to a lack of finances in his native Cote d'Ivoire, Abdel Kader Cisse introduced his son to the sport.

Cheick's talent and dedication saw him become a two-time African champion before heading to the Rio 2016 Games.

He reached the final but trailed Britain's Lutalo Muhammad in the closing stages.

With just one second left on the clock, Cheick landed a head-kick to snatch a dramatic victory and his country's first ever Olympic gold medal.

The title changed his life dramatically, but also ignited within him a desire to be the best.

Now he is seeking a first World Championship medal in Manchester (15-19 May).

A podium finish would also boost his bid to qualify for Tokyo 2020, although Cisse insists he will be there to defend his crown.

"The surest thing is that I will be there and I will be at 500% at Tokyo 2020!"

This is a big year for the 25-year-old, who defends his African Games title in Rabat in August.

Before departing for the World Championships, Cisse spoke to Olympic Channel from his training base at Club Elite Ramos Brigette in Palma de Mallorca. He trains there under Spaniard Juan Antonio Ramos, a two-time Olympian and double world champion.

Mental strength

Olympic Channel: How are you? Are you in shape?

Cheick Sallah Cisse: I am very well. I will be in shape on the D-Day. So far, I am still looking for my best shape.

OC: How would you rate your current fitness?

CSC: I am at 80%. I will be at 100% on the 18th of May.

During the Grand Prix in Manchester last October, I pulled my hamstring but have been working on it, so that I can be at 100% at the World Championships.

OC: How confident are you with your shape?

CSC: Sport is not only about physicality. It’s more about mental strength. You can be injured and beat all your opponents.

I am very strong mentally, and this is my strength no matter how bad my injury is.

If I was not strong mentally, I would not go (to the Worlds). But I am ready mentally. I am going to give 100%.

OC: Have you ever worked with a mental coach?

CSC: "I have a physiotherapist, mental coach, fitness trainer, and a taekwondo coach. It is teamwork. This is why I am ready mentally which is the most important thing.

Cheick Sallah Cisse at Rio 2016

High hopes

OC: What’s your target in Manchester?

CSC: I am striving for excellence, but this is sport. I am going to give 100%, and that’s the most important thing. I am targeting the gold medal, but this is high level so you never know.

OC: You have not achieved the success you seek at the World Championships yet. Do you hope this can change in Manchester?

CSC: Each event has its own characteristics.The Olympic Games are different. The Grand Prix, Opens and World Championships are all very different events.

I have won everything currently in taekwondo, but it’s at the World Championships where I still don’t have any medal.

I lost in the round of 16 at the [2015] World Champs in Russia, and in the second round in Korea two years ago. This year for Manchester, I have prepared well and I've tried to put everything in place to be ready on the D-Day.

But this is sport. Everybody trains for this championship, so that they can be better than everyone else not just physically or technically but in general. I think this year it will be good.

Again my Spanish coach Juan Antonio Ramos Sanchez and I have worked a lot with several athletes.

"Olympic gold changed my life a lot."

OC: Everybody knows your compatriot Didier Drogba, but after you won the Olympic gold, Cheick Sallah Cisse became a household name in your country and elsewhere. How has the Olympic gold medal changed your life?

First, huge respect to Didier Drogba who is like a brother to me. I talk to him, he gives me great advice.

He served as a role model, motivated us. When you don’t have a role model, you don’t have a career; you don’t have goals.

The likes of Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o gave us the motivation to become champions.

The Olympic gold medal changed my life a lot. I am now 25, but I do not think like a 25-year-old person. I have become a role model. I have many social media followers. When I am at home, people are excited, they want to take pictures with me.

You have to be a role model 24/7, not only when you are working or training. It is all good for me because it makes me grow. It helps me in my performance and also financially.

Before becoming an Olympic champion, I was just going to school. But after the Olympics I could afford to buy a house and a car.

Today, I can live well thanks to sport. The most important thing is that I can practise my sport without worrying, which was not the case before becoming Olympic champion. We now have to help the youth of Cote d’Ivoire and numerous other talents.

Cisse Sallah Cisse celebrates his Olympic title win with coach Tadjou Attadda

Living his father's dream

OC: Your gold medal was a big boost for taekwondo in your country?

CSC: Taekwondo is now one of the most important sports in Cote d’Ivoire.

But it has to be said that before my Olympic gold medal in Rio, some Ivorian fighters had good results in taekwondo like Patrice Remarck, Charles Bayou or Tadjou Attadda who was my coach at Rio 2016. All these fighters motivated us to try to do more than them.

OC: And how did you get into taekwondo?

CSC: I started with karate when I was six years old. Then I switched to taekwondo because my father wanted to do taekwondo. But his father, my grandfather, had many children and could not afford to pay school fees, feed the family and at the same time spare a budget for taekwondo.

So my father could never practise taekwondo. When he could, he was too old. So since he could not do it, he decided to introduce me to taekwondo.

Top shape

OC: Do you plan to defend your title in Tokyo?

CSC: The surest thing is that I will be there and I will be at 500% at Tokyo 2020!

OC: At 500%, can you explain that?

CSC: That I am sure of the form! I don’t know the result yet, but I will be at 500%.

Tokyo 2020 is my main goal. I will give the best of myself in Tokyo, where I hope to clinch gold.