SIX new Great Britain Academy recruits will get a first chance to impress when they compete at the British Masters in Brentford on Saturday.
The group only have three weeks experience of WTF Taekwondo in the bank after being selected as part of the ‘Fighting Chance:Battle4Brazil’ talent identification programme.
They are: kick boxers Darren Chapman, Christian McNeish, Tony Stephenson and Murdo MacKenzie; plus Danny Dowling and Lyle Walker from non Olympic, ITF Taekwondo.
But there’s plenty at stake for the Manchester trained squad under the watchful eye of GB coaches Harry No and three-time former world champion, Sarah Stevenson.
With the inaugural World Taekwondo Grand Prix taking place at Manchester Central from December 13-15, the newcomers know good performances could put their names in the frame when GB Performance Director, Gary Hall, announces his wild card picks later this month.
Five elite GB stars have already been chosen to do battle against the world’s leading taekwondo exponents: Olympic champion, Jade Jones, London 2012 bronze medallist, Lutalo Muhammad, 2011 world silver medallist, Michael Harvey, world bronze medallist and London Olympian, Martin Stamper plus multi Open champion, Bianca Walkden.
The Masters has attracted nearly 350 competitors including the Fighting Chance recruits plus Ben Haines, the only member of the squad from a WTF Taekwondo background. Indeed, Haines from Southampton collected a silver medal at last month’s Serbian Open in Belgrade.
A total of 15 athletes joined the GB Academy last month from around 500 initial applicants to the Fighting Chance scheme, which was run by UK Sport, the English Institute of Sport (EIS) and GB Taekwondo.
Fighting Chance: Battle4Brazil was a nationwide search for high achieving martial artists with the potential to transfer to Olympic WTF Taekwondo and make an impact at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
The programme was first run in 2009 and discovered National and European champion Muhammad along with former kickboxing world champion Damon Sansum.
And it’s fitting that Stevenson, who announced her retirement from the sport earlier this year, is back in London after being closely involved in the Fighting Chance scheme.
“It’s such an exciting initiative to be involved in” agreed Stevenson, recently appointed to the World Taekwondo Federation’s Executive Council.
“The level was to a very high standard and just showed us the range of skills that are transferable from other martial arts to the sport of Taekwondo.”
Welsh prospect Lauren Williams, at 14, was the youngest member of the recent intake and this weekend sees the former kick boxer from Newport travelling to Zagreb for her Great Britain debut at the Croatia Open.
Williams is part of a strong British representation of Cadets and Juniors looking to build on last month’s performances in Serbia. Seventeen athletes medalled in the A-Class competition, a selection event for next year’s Cadet and Junior World Championships plus Youth Olympic Games.
*The World Grand Prix takes place at Manchester Central from December 13-15. To view the event schedule and purchase tickets visit http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/WTGP13
All GB players competing on Saturday, November 9
-63kg: Darren Chapman (23),kick boxing, Chilwell, Nottinghamshire
-68kg: Christian McNeish (16), kick boxing, Plaistow, London; Tony Stephenson (22), kick boxing, Bantry, County Cork
-74kg: Ben Haines (19), WTF Taekwondo, Southampton; Danny Dowling (21), ITF Taekwondo, Exeter, Devon
+87kg: Murdo MacKenzie (22), kick boxing, Findhorn, Moray; Lyle Walker (18), ITF Taekwondo, Carstairs Junction, South Lanarkshire.