Lutalo Muhammad has seen plenty of the world on his taekwondo travels this year but nothing beats fighting in the UK for the London 2012 bronze medallist.
With his next two assignments in Manchester, including this weekend’s record breaking National Championships, Muhammad is looking to make the most of home advantage.
More than 700 competitors, representing 81 clubs, is a new high for the two-day tournament (September 20-21) confirming the sport’s growing popularity since he and Olympic champion, Jade Jones, wowed crowds at ExCel two years ago.
Muhammad, 23, is one of 15 GB Academy athletes taking part in the Championships – the London born star’s final competitive workout before the city also hosts the World Grand Prix from October 24-26.
“The Nationals are the perfect preparation for the up-coming Grand Prix,” confirms the ‘Walthamstow Warrior’ recently returned from competing in Kazakhstan with his GB team mates. “But also my title is on the line and I am determined to keep it.
“I am in a fortunate position that some of my biggest rivals are team mates at the GB Academy. So, it means there is a good edge between us all the time and allows me to be the sharpest I can be going into tournaments.
“I have to stay on top of my game,” adds Muhammad, who will contest the -87kg weight division. “I have done a lot of tournaments this year so it has been taxing.
“But we are well looked after and I feel confident going into the Nationals.
Besides, I am undefeated at home since the last Olympics so I want to keep my record going.”
Muhammad also won his 2012 European title in Manchester; a victory that helped rubberstamp his eventual Olympic selection.
With wild cards still up for grabs ahead of the World Taekwondo Grand Prix at Manchester Central, Academy athletes have plenty of incentive to produce their best form this weekend.
The other GB athletes are: Rachelle Booth (-62kg,Wigan), Danny Dowling (-80kg, Exeter), Nicole Huntington (-57kg, Ipswich), Murdo Mackenzie (87kg, Inverness), Charlie Maddock (-53kg, Stoke on Trent), Christian McNeish (Plaistow), Tom Smith (-80kg, Poplar), Tony Stephenson (-68kg, Bury), Lyle Walker (87kg, Law), Lauren Williams (-63kg, Newport, Gwent).
In addition, GB Academy members: Gurpreet Singh (-63kg), Jade Slavin (-73kg), Ben Haines (-74kg) and Jordan Gayle (-68kg) will compete under their respective club banner: Gurumu, Chi Taekwondo, BTS and Manchester Aces.
However, with such an impressive entry list there are plenty of club fighters confident of claiming notable scalps. Indeed, three potential title winners will be competing for their respective clubs where they developed and learned the trade.
Viroshan Gnanapandithan is the reigning European Cadet champion and will be guaranteed plenty of support. He is one of 52 representatives from the Gurumu club in London, out to defend its overall team title won in 2013 from Team Ultimate (Doncaster) and St Katherines Taekwondo (London).
Gurumu players collected 35 medals 12 months ago, including 14 golds in 2013. Other potential champions include Keighley’s Leah Moorby (Ultimate) and Katie Bradley (South Hams) from Plymouth, winners of World Championship junior bronze medals earlier this year.
Amy Truesdale is Britain’s only World Para Taekwondo champion but the Chester based, Stoke trained star will compete in the able bodied competition this weekend.
A full list of all entries can be viewed at:
*Tickets for the Manchester round of the World Taekwondo Grand Prix (October 24-26) will be on sale at the National Championships at a 15% discount + no booking fees.
*More information about tickets and the full Grand Prix schedule is available on the event website www.taekwondogp.com