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.