Jones praises Booth breakthrough at Manchester World Taekwondo Grand Prix

Olympic champion Jade Jones insists the future of British taekwondo is bright after the 21-year-old and Rachelle Booth wowed the home crowd at the World Taekwondo Grand Prix in Manchester.

Jones claimed a silver medal, narrowly losing the final against Eva Calvo Gomez on a golden point, while wildcard Booth produced a series of upsets to reach the quarter-finals.

The pair, who compete in the same -57kg category and regularly train together, were highly complimentary of each other’s dedication.

“Rachelle is amazing, coming from ITF like I did. I train with her all the time at the gym and I found her awkward so she’s been helping me in my training too,” said Jones.

Booth, still a teenager, was participating in her first ever Grand Prix and paid tribute to her training partner.

“Being in the same team as Jade is the best thing for me really,” Booth said. “Jade’s got a great attitude so that definitely rubs off on me and it does spur you on.”

Jones defeated Jessica Chavez, Sohee Kim and Mayu Hamada to reach the final, which she almost won after clawing her way back to 4-4 late in the third round.

“It’s frustrating losing on a golden point,” Jones said.

“She’s a really good player and I’m getting better and better, but to lose golden point again, the finest of margins, it’s frustrating.

“She’s got long leg length and I like to stand and fight at a distance, so it makes it easy for her to kick me without me getting a shot back in. I just need to improve that.”

Booth knocked out world number four Floriane Liborio, and Olympic quarter-finalist Suvi Mikkonen, before losing out to Korea’s Ah-Reum Lee in the quarter-final.

“It was a great day, it’s all good experience,” said 19-year-old Booth. “I’ll go away and look at that last performance to see where I went wrong and correct it for next time.

“It’s amazing to be able to compete at home. It’s my first major event, but it’s such an honour to do it here.”

Meanwhile, Michael Harvey secured his first ever Grand Prix victory in the men’s -68kg category with a golden point victory over Moldovan Vladislav Arventii.

Harvey fell at the next hurdle to world champion Behnam Asbaghikhanghah, but held his own against a highly experienced opponent.

“It was tough, I knew it would be because he’s a good fighter but I love competing in front of a home crowd and they gave me that extra edge to bring me back up each time,” said the 25-year-old from Hyde.

“I was feeling confident coming into the Grand Prix, and it was great to get my first win out of the way. I can go and do a few open tournaments now and build up some form.”

Elsewhere, Martin Stamper lost in the first round, going down 10-9 to Olympic silver medallist Mohammad Bagheri in a closely-fought match.

Stamper said: “I’m disappointed, obviously, with the result because I came here in peak condition so there are no excuses. I know at my best I would have won but I was only at about 90 per cent today.

“I just wish it was a better result today because all my family have come down so that’s probably the most disappointing thing.”

And wildcard entry Jordan Gayle lost out in the last second of his first-round bout against Portugal’s Mario Silva, almost winning despite a 100-place ranking difference between the two fighters.

“This is the second time I’ve lost in the last second in Manchester, but it’s great to have your family able to come and watch you in a big event like this which is almost a World Championships,” Gayle said.

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Jones rues Golden Point loss to arch rival Gomez

World number two Jade Jones bemoaned another defeat to long-time rival Eva Calvo Gomez after losing on a golden point in the final of -57kg category at Manchester’s World Taekwondo Grand Prix.

Calvo Gomez secured her third straight grand prix victory, having won the first two of the year in China and Kazakhstan, defeating Jones in overtime after a 4-4 draw over three rounds.

The Brit had earlier romped into the final, beating Japan’s Mayu Hamada in the semi-final 12-0, but was unable to pick her way past the tall figure of the world number one.

“She’s a really good player, but I’m getting better and better,” said a frustrated Jones.

“I keep making the same mistakes. She’s got long leg length and I like to stand and fight at a distance, so it makes it easy for her to kick me without me getting a shot back in.”

The partisan Manchester crowd roared every Jones kick and punch but her Spanish opponent, who edged past Ah-Reum Lee in her semi-final, secured yet another gold medal.

“I’m very pleased because I knew it was going to be a very hard fight against Jade, it always is,” said the 23-year-old. “She’s a really great fighter and I’m really happy to have won.

“Every championship against Jade it’s always a really hard match, usually a golden point. She’s so explosive and she’s physically stronger than me.

“Personally I like the golden point because I only ever fight one point at a time.

“I was really stressed, obviously because it was a final, but I like the golden point.”

Jones’ performances even drew plaudits from Chung-won Choue, president of the World Taekwondo Federation.

“Jade is very good and she’s still young, so she could even win another Olympic gold medal in the Rio games,” said the South Korean.

Dr Choue also praised the organisation of the event, which was inaugurated in Manchester in December 2013.

“The level of support for taekwondo here is excellent – not only the fans’ enthusiasm but also the financial support from organisers here has been really good.”

Moments before the women’s final, Jaouad Achab came within six seconds of upsetting the world number one Dae-Hoon Lee in the men’s -68kg category final.

The Belgian had already upset the odds, beating world champion Iranian Behnam Asbaghikhanghah in the quarter-final by a dramatic golden point.

Achab started explosively in the final, scoring an early headshot and taking a 7-1 lead, but the world number one reeled him in, striking the Belgian’s head to take the title by a single point.

“This Grand Prix is a very high level and it was very difficult to make it to the final,” said the 21-year-old Achab.

“I was winning in the first round but he’s the world number one so it was not going to be so easy.

“I’m not sure how much confidence this will give me, but I just work hard whatever happens and hopefully it’ll be enough to get to the Olympics.

“This Grand Prix is a very high level and it was very difficult to make it to the final.”

The star-studded field took a blow when European champion Servet Tazegul withdrew at the last minute, and 2013 Manchester champion Alexey Denisenko was beaten in the round of 16.

However, Lee suffered no such mishaps, beating compatriot Hun Kim, Portugal’s Mario Silva, and Denisenko’s conqueror Jiannan Huang in the semi-final to set up his clash with Achab.

The final medal table was topped by Iran with two golds and two third-place finishes ahead of Spain’s two golds, while South Korea, Russia, Serbia and Germany all claimed one victory apiece as hosts Britain picked up two silvers.

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Thank you Manchester, says ‘maverick’ Cook after silver medal heroics

Aaron Cook is hoping he can take his ‘maverick’ approach to the Rio Olympics in two years after he secured a silver medal on a day of upsets at the World Taekwondo Grand Prix in Manchester on Saturday.

The world number one was defeated 13-11 in the men’s -80kg final by Iranian Mahdi Khodabakhshi after knocking out world champion Tahir Guelec in the semis with a stunning head kick early on.

Further shocks included the early exits of five-time world champion Steven Lopez and the defending champion Lutalo Muhammad on a day when Cook walked away a proud man.

“I’m happy with my training, with the support I have around me, with my family. So many people have helped me. The list is a mile long, but most of all my family,” said Cook, whose parents fund his career.

“It’s tough with my parents paying for everything. Some may say it’s maverick but it’s an individual sport at the end of the day and I’m doing what’s right for me. I’m one step closer to Rio.

“To everyone that stayed here today to watch, I just want to thank them.”

On a successful day for Iran, Khodabakhshi’s medal was one of two golds and a bronze for the nation.

“Iran showed today what a great Taekwondo team it has and the world can be sure that will carry on. The weekend in Manchester has been perfect,” said the gold medallist.

“I have seen Cook fight but I have never fought with him before. He was a very difficult opponent and it was a brilliant result for me beating the world number one.”

Iranian Masoud Hajizavareh and German Guelec picked up the bronze medals in the -80kg category.

Guelec’s clash with Cook was cut short after he suffered a thumping kick to the head inside the opening minute of the match, being forced to concede.

Last year’s winner Lutalo Muhammad lost his second round fight 8-7 to eventual bronze medallist Hajizavareh.

Nikita Rafalovich of Uzbekistan had a day to remember, beating taekwondo legend Steven Lopez and Olympic champion Sebastian Crismanich, but still missed out on the medals.

Farzan Ashour Zadeh Fallah emerged victorious in the men’s -58kg competition, beating China’s Shuai Zhao by virtue of a golden point playoff.

“I had five high-ranked opponents today but the people in Iran were praying for me to win,” said Ashour Zadeh Fallah.

“I got the 40 ranking points I wanted and a gold medal. I think I can make it to Rio.”

Cesar Rodriguez of Mexico and Rui Braganca of Portugal took bronze, Braganca was particularly pleased having never before won a Grand Prix bout.

The women’s -49kg category was won by Spaniard Brigida Yague, defeating Hungary’s Ivett Gonda 4-2 in the final.

Yague edged a tense match, having already caused an upset in her semi-final after defeating Olympic bronze medallist and world number one Lucija Zaninovic 5-4.

“I am very happy. I am super excited to have come to this huge competition in Manchester and to win is amazing,” said the Spaniard.

“Next up I have the nationals but I am taking things step by step and hoping big for Rio.”

Gonda took the silver medal and was surprised with the success she has experienced in Manchester.

“I actually didn’t come here with a medal in mind, but obviously a podium is always great.

“I’ve fought Brigida quite a few times before. I made a few small mistakes, and she’s definitely a top precise fighter, so it’s great to be against her in the ring.

“We have a long-term goal and are setting smaller benchmarks. To qualify for the Rio Olympics is the main goal, but a smaller goal for me is the European games.”

The final day of the Grand Prix will feature the men’s -68kg competition and the women’s -57kg, where home favourite Jade Jones will seek to land GB’s first gold of the meeting.

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Muhammad disappointment as runner-up Cook’s knockout kick wows crowd

WORLD number two Lutalo Muhammad admitted losing in front of the home fans in Manchester made missing out on defending his World Taekwondo Grand Prix title all the more galling.

Muhammad arrived in Manchester full of confidence as the reigning -80kg champion, not to mention having won bronze at London 2012. However he was defeated 8-7 by Iranian Masoud Hajizavareh in the dying seconds of his second round match in a surprise result.

And while he is determined to improve next time out, Muhammad was disappointed not to be on a better show for his home fans. “It’s fantastic fighting at home which is what makes this defeat all the more painful,” he said.

“It hurts and it is very disappointing not to give the home crowd the victories that I think they deserve for coming out and supporting us.

“The good thing is I can only go up from here. I will go back to the drawing board and be better next time.”

Muhammad’s arch rival Aaron Cook was the best of the British based athletes in the -80kg division as he claimed silver behind Iran’s Mahdi Khodabakhshi. The world number one reached the final thanks to a spectacular kick which knocked out world champion Tahir Guelec in the first round of the semi-final.

Although he was disappointed to have fallen at the final hurdle the Manchester-based fighter paid tribute to his Iranian conqueror. “I tried my heart out but he’s an absolutely fantastic fighter,” said a respectful Cook, whose stunning kick to poleaxe Guelec was the highlight of a memorable day.

“It was out of nowhere. He surprised me with an early headshot and I was 4-0 down, when my plan was just to go in there and suss him out for the first 20 seconds really,” added Cook.

Damon Sansum was Team GB’s best performer on day two in Manchester, reaching the quarter-final of the -80kg event. After winning bronze at the Grand Prix in Kazakhstan, Sansum was eliminated in a sudden death round by current world champion Tahir Guelec at the quarter-final stage in Manchester after the score was tied at 16-16.

“I am better than that opponent and I should have won by a few but I was just a bit complacent at some stages,” said Sansum.

“I am not going to get disheartened; I will be straight back to training and then medal in the next few tournaments to finish the year out.

“The team is well we are still training hard and I think in the next tournament in Mexico we will put on a show and I think we will get what we deserve.”

World champion Guelec also beat Sansum’s compatriot Andy Deer in round one on a difficult day for the home fighters as Asia Bailey and Feyi Pearce lost in the second round of the women’s -49kg and men’s-58kg competitions respectively.

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Olympic champion Mandic reigns supreme on opening day

MILICA Mandic thanked her coach Dragan Jovic for teaching her crucial blocking techniques that saw her concede just five points as she stormed to gold at World Taekwondo Grand Prix in Manchester.

The Serbian arrived in the North East as one of the favourites for the women’s +68kg title having claimed +67kg gold at the London Olympics.

And the 22-year-old didn’t disappoint, storming into the semi-final having remained untouched, including beating home crowd favourite Jade Slavin 5-0 in the quarter-final.

Mandic conceded her first point in her semi-final but the European champion didn’t panic, beating Holland’s Reshmie Oogink 7-4 in the showpiece to take home the title.

She said: “I practice a lot of blocks, I try and keep every fight to one or two points so I’m really satisfied. It is a tactic I developed with my coach and he is the best coach in the world.

“I’m very excited as it is my fourth grand prix since last year and I’ve gone from strength to strength.”

Along with Mandic Russia’s Anastasiia Baryshnikova won the -67kg category 5-2 against world number three Elin Johansson of Sweden and Volker Wodzich of Germany won the men’s +80kg.

The -67kg semi-finals were hotly contested with both matches being won by a point and the final was just as tight.

Baryshnikova said: “I’m very happy to have won here as my opponent was challenging. Manchester has been a great stage.”

Runner-up Johansson added: “I feel like I could’ve won but she’s tough to score against so I knew before the fight I had to be patient but I was stressed and a few mistakes cost me.

“These guys here they are the best in the world in my sport so it was an honour to be in the final and I’m very happy.”

Germany’s Wodzich won 3-1 against Uzbekistan’s Jasur Baykuziyev in a match that was very close throughout and was decided in the final round.

The champion said: “I think in the Grand Prix it’s not sure you can win a fight, it is very hard and you need a bit of luck and today I was lucky.”

On Manchester’s stage athletes tried to rack up points in order to boost their chances of qualifying for the Rio Olympics in 2016. It was a competitive field and lots of Olympic hopefuls made early exits but many of the winners feel confident that their victories will help them to achieve their dreams of a gold medal in two years time.

Mandic said: “I’m looking forward to it [Rio] but first I need to qualify, it’s a very strong competition. We have the World Championships and other tough contests first so we will see but I hope I can get there.”

Johansson added: “I’m looking forward to Rio; I have been since I was 16 so I hope I’ll be there and make my dream come true.”

Along with prospects of Rio qualification Manchester also played host to the excitement of new electronic head gear which for the first time detected successful head kicks.

There was a mixture of opinions on the usage of the technology from the athletes but generally the results were positive. “Sometimes it’s good because it’s electronic and the judges can’t see everything but I like video replaying more. I think it will be better in a month or so as there are still a few issues,” Mandic said.

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Mixed fortunes for British athletes on opening day of World Taekwondo Grand Prix

MAHAMA Cho insists it is all systems go for Rio 2016 despite failing to retain his World Taekwondo Grand Prix title in Manchester.

Cho headed to Manchester full of confidence, having never finished outside the top three at a Grand Prix and also having won the +80kg title at last year’s event. However his assault was ended by Olympic champion Carlo Molfetta in the round of 16, the Italian winning on a golden point.

But despite the 25-year-old’s premature exit this time around, Cho admits it has done little to stunt his confidence as he aims to make his mark at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. “I always fight to the dying seconds no matter how much time is left, that’s how I fight, I never give up,” he said.

“Golden points can go either way, his timing worked well and he was the better fighter that’s why he won.

“It went right to the wire and I was expecting it. Unfortunately it wasn’t me through to the next round.

“We’re still working towards Rio but it’s a long path. We’ve got the Grand Prix Final in Mexico and World Championships next year so we are constantly working towards it.”

Elsewhere for Great Britain, wildcard entry Jade Slavin carried the flag furthest for the home team as she reached the quarter-final of the women’s +67kg. There she lost 5-0 to Olympic gold medallist Milica Mandic but there was little to dampen the 21-year-old’s mood.

She said: “I’m really proud and just relieved I did so well because I was nervous.

“I didn’t expect to win one fight as I’ve never competed at this level before; I’m pretty pleased with myself.

“It’s been my dream since I started taekwondo when I was nine so I’d love to get there [Rio]. I just have to keep training hard and entering these competitions and hopefully keep improving over time.”

Meanwhile, fellow Brits Lyle Walker and Stella Whitehead found the going much tougher, exiting in the first round. Debutant Walker had a tough opener against France’s M’Bar N’Diaye but showed encouraging signs for the future, eventually going down 16-12 to his more illustrious opponent.

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Drawsheets for -67, +67 and +80 now available

Drawsheets for athletes competing in -67, +67 and +80 on Friday October 24 are now available by clicking here

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