A Team GB taekwondo competitor who claimed victory instead of world number one Aaron Cook has said he received hate mail while preparing for the Olympics.
European champion Lutalo Muhammad, ranked 59 in the world, faced a wave of resentment after the decision to choose him for the Games. But the Walthamstow-born fighter shrugged it off to appear in the men’s under-80kg category at the Excel arena today, as part of a four-strong British squad.
Muhammad, 21, said there was no issue with Cook and he bore him no ill will: “Whenever we have met a few times in the ring or at tournament, it’s always been very civil, very respectful and very courteous — I have no problems with Aaron.”
He has not revealed the content of the hate mail he received from Cook “fans”, in what he calls “the saga”. He said: “I did receive some hate mail, but that’s all ancient history now — my focus just has to be performing to the best of my ability. The nature of sport is the more exposure you get, the more people you’re going to get who don’t necessarily like you for any given reason.”
GB Taekwondo said it chose Muhammad because of a change in the scoring system that favoured the way he fought. Cook, 21, lost an appeal to British sports chiefs and threatened to take his case to the High Court but relented.
Muhammad said the fallout had made the squad stronger. Team-mate Sarah Stevenson, the women’s under-67kg world champion, has defended him and dismissed the relevance of the world rankings, saying: “We’re getting behind Lutalo and looking after him.”
Muhammad said: “The saga has probably made me recognise what a great spirit we have and what a great form we have,” adding: “I’m going into this as the European champion so I take a great deal of confidence from that.”
Muhammad, who attended Walthamstow schools South Grove primary and Holy Family Technology College, moved to Manchester last year. Asked if he ever needed to deploy his martial arts to defuse a situation, he said: “A few times, but that got dealt with quite swiftly. I was a good boy at school.”
He learned taekwondo under the tuition of his father Wayne, who with mother Marcia will be cheering him on at Excel today, which Muhammad said “means the world to me”.