Next stop Astana for Rio bound GB globe trotters

In two years time the biggest Great Britain taekwondo squad ever assembled at an Olympic Games will battle for medals at Rio 2016.

It will be a far cry from a team of two, including Beijing 2008 bronze medallist, Sarah Stevenson, that competed in Sydney 2000 when taekwondo made its competitive Olympic debut.

But the road to Rio is a long and difficult one as the current Manchester trained, GB Taekwondo squad will testify to. Just qualifying for Brazil will be a considerable achievement.

The incredible journey is now poised to reach Astana-reputed to be the second coldest capital city in the world-for the latest WTF World Grand Prix.

GB Taekwondo has sent a small but perfectly formed squad of six to Kazakhstan where the welcome will be anything but frosty once they step out for action at the Daulet Sport Centre.

With most of the planet’s best taekwondo stars gathered for competition in eight Olympic weight categories (four male, four female), anything less than a five-star performance could spell disappointment.

Three members of the GB team-competing in Astana from August 29-31-are previous World Taekwondo Grand Prix medallists: Mahama Cho, Lutalo Muhammad and Jade Jones. Cho is the only one with two medals having added bronze in Suzhou, China last month to his memorable +80kg gold at Manchester Central in December 2013.

Olympic champion Jones from Flint is the lone GB female athlete fighting in the former Soviet republic as Bianca Walkden-also a bronze medallist in Suzhou-recovers from her recent knee injury.

‘Headhunter’ Jones is now the hunted after her historic London 2012 gold medal and keen to improve on her quarter-final in Suzhou when beaten by tough Korean, Sohee Kim in the quarter-finals of the -57kg division. A World Taekwondo Grand Prix silver medallist in Manchester nine months ago, the Welsh favourite desperately wants gold.

And with 40 ranking points towards Rio Olympic qualification and a $5,000 first prize, there’s plenty at stake for Jones and her team mates. Indeed, with a 16 point differential between first and second, all Rio hopefuls know the importance of finishing on top of the podium.

Britain’s remaining Astana hopefuls are: Michael Harvey and Ruebyn Richards (Nottingham)-both competing at -68kg-and Damon Sansum (Elgin), joining 2012 Olympic bronze medallist, Muhammad, at -80kg.

“I have been a lot of places but Kazakhstan is a first,” says Mancunian Harvey, the 2012 European champion, edged out by world number 15, Hun Kim, in his only match in Suzhou..

“I actually don’t have any spare pages in my passport. Fortunately, I don’t think we need a visa for Astana otherwise I would have had to send off for a new one.

“Because of the new ranking system I’ve been to a lot more places in the last 12 months,” added Harvey who has also competed in the Middle East and Azerbaijan during 2014.

“You just get back from one tournament, have a few weeks back home and then we are packing to go off again. But it is good to test yourself against the best on a regular basis.”

However, there will be no passport requirement later in the year for the Brits when the third World Grand Prix of 2014 returns to the UK.

Forget the thermals too as Manchester-the self proclaimed British capital of sport-rolls out the red carpet for a second time to the global taekwondo community.

Tickets are now on sale for the Manchester round of the World Grand Prix (October 24-26) by clicking here.

Astana schedule

Friday:

 +80kg: Mahama Cho (Stockwell, London)

Saturday

-80kg: Lutalo Muhammad (Walthamstow, London), Damon Sansum (Elgin)

Sunday

-68kg: Michael Harvey (Manchester), Ruebyn Richards (Nottingham)

-57kg: Jade Jones (Flint)

Posted in News

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