YOG star Jade Jones aiming to become taekwondo’s first triple Olympic champion
The British fighter, whose breakthrough came at the inaugural Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games, is already being talked about as ‘the chosen one’ ahead of a historic hat-trick bid at Tokyo 2020.
Jade Jones seemed destined for the big time ever since announcing herself on the world stage by winning gold, in a whirlwind of spinning head kicks, at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG). Two senior Olympic titles followed at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games and now the Welshwoman is aiming for an unprecedented triple.
“Tokyo 2020 is 100% in my sights,” Jones said. “The Olympics are the biggest and most important thing to me, and no one in taekwondo has ever got three Olympic golds, so that’s my main goal. I want to become that first and only person to do that.”
Jones would surpass the USA’s Steven Lopez and Iran’s Hadi Saei, who both won two gold medals and one bronze at the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. She would also move ahead of the leading female taekwondo Olympian, the Republic of Korea’s Hwang Kyung-seon, who also has two golds and a bronze, from the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games. But Jones knows it will be tough.
“It will be very hard. Already there have been some comments like, ‘Could she be the chosen one?’ so there will be a lot of expectation and pressure, but I am trying to look at it as a challenge and enjoy it,” she said.
Now 24, Jones was just 17 when she took the -55kg title in Singapore. She is adamant that experience paved the way for her success in the ‘big’ Olympics. “To have the chance to compete in my first Olympic event when I was still so young was an amazing all-round experience. I’d never been to a multi-sport event before and it was just like a smaller version of the Olympics. It was incredible from start to finish. It was a really feel-good environment and as close to the Olympics as you could get.”
Family and community have been huge contributors to Jones’s success. She was introduced to taekwondo by her grandfather, who wanted to channel her youthful exuberance. “I was a normal kid, getting a bit cheeky and mischievous, so my granddad wanted to get me going in the right direction and focused on something,” she said.
Before each major event she visits her grandmother’s grave with her father and brother. “My dad has this little joke where he likes to sprinkle me with what he says is the holy water from the flowers there,” Jones said. “We have a joke about it, but I am serious about going there for a bit of luck and to ask her to watch over me.”
And Jones’s triumph in Singapore was all the sweeter because her home-town community had played such a crucial role it. When she returned to Flint, in north Wales, it was to a heartfelt hero’s welcome.
“My family couldn’t even afford to get me to the qualification event for Singapore, so the local pub raised loads of money to send me there,” Jones said. “Luckily it paid off and I got to bring a gold medal back for them. My whole home town was supporting me, they backed me and put their money into it, and it meant so much to me and made me fight even harder. When I came back with a gold medal it felt like everyone had done it with me, not just me doing it on my own. It really brought the town together.”
The Olympics are the biggest and most important thing to me, and no one in taekwondo has ever got three Olympic golds, so that’s my main goal. I want to become that first and only person to do that. Jade Jones
- Jade Jones
In Rio, Jones was the only taekwondo athlete to retain their title as she defended the -57kg crown she won in London. She knows her rivals are watching her and working hard in the hope of dethroning her in Tokyo. But rather than wilt under the pressure, the woman who listens to Eminem to get her “pumped up” before fights seems inspired by the challenge.
“In sport it always gets harder,” said Jones, who is known as ‘the Headhunter’ due to her preference for head shots. “My rivals know my game and every time I fight someone they up their game and switch on even more, because I am the one to beat. So I just need to stay one step ahead, to keep improving my game and never think it’s enough. I have to keep pushing to stay in front of them.”
Hard work is not something that frightens Jones, who trains full-time at the GB Taekwondo Academy in Manchester. She is part of an intensive programme that helped the British team rise to third in the taekwondo medal table in Rio, having failed to win a medal at the sport’s Olympic debut in 2000 or in 2004.
“The GB taekwondo team puts the hours in and when other teams come over they can’t believe the intensity, but that’s why we have one of the best teams in the world now,” said Jones. “We train four to five hours solid every day, Monday to Friday. You’re focused on it from 8am until 7pm – training, recovering, watching fights, doing psychology – it’s a full-time job.
“There are days when you just want to stay in bed and watch a film, when training is the last thing you want to do. But then you have to remind yourself why you’re doing it. I think back to when I was younger and how much I wanted to be the best, and I know that all the early mornings and the grind will be worth it if I get gold in Tokyo.”