Taekwondo: Team GB's Lutalo Muhammad focused on Rio gold

 

Olympic taekwondo bronze medallist Lutalo Muhammad intends to leave no doubts over why he should be leading Team GB's charge for gold at Rio 2016.

Muhammad, 21, found himself at the centre of a media storm earlier this summer after he was controversially selected for the under-80kgs slot ahead of world number one Aaron Cook.

The Londoner, however, could not make it past the quarter-finals where he was beaten by Nicolas Garcia Hemme.

Because the Spaniard went on to reach the final, finishing with silver, Muhammad was handed a second chance through the repechage competition, which he seized with victory over Iran's Yousef Karami, bronze medallist at the 2004 Athens Olympics and world champion last year at under-87kgs, before then beating Arman Yeremyan of Armenia as South Arena 1 exploded in a sea of Union Flags.

Muhammad only joined the elite GB Taekwondo Academy in Manchester last summer, and earlier this year won the under-87kgs European Championships title.

Over the next Olympics cycle, the Walthamstow fighter intends to make himself the man to beat.

"Although it is not the colour I wanted, it is still an Olympic medal and we have the World Championships next year, when hopefully I can pull off some more good performances," Muhammad told Press Association Sport.

"I really want to keep the momentum going so I can go into Rio and make sure there is no doubt this time - then I can be talking to you with an Olympic gold medal around my neck."

Muhammad added: "I took great confidence from the fact I was selected this time around. It was a tough ordeal, but hopefully that is all behind us now.

"I would love to go to Rio, so my focus now is putting in good performances over the next four years, so I can go two better next time."

Muhammad was trained by his father Wayne at the family's taekwondo school in Walthamstow, east London - just a few miles from where the 21-year-old won his Olympic medal.

"I have only managed to speak to him on the phone - I think he is still somewhere on the moon. He is really happy and proud to me. I am looking forward to seeing him later on," he said.

"The journey towards these Games was character building, and it took a lot of mental strength.

"My family was very supportive of me from the start, and I am happy I have a medal around my neck which in a way is a reward for all of us."

While much has been made of the fact GB Taekwondo overlooked a fighter ranked at the head of his division by the World Taekwondo Federation, results at ExCeL showed that is not necessarily a benchmark for gold - with Wales teenager Jade Jones having dispatched both top seeds Tseng Li Cheng and Hou Yuzhuo en route to her triumph in the under-57kgs.

"The way world rankings work in taekwondo, it can really depend on the amounts of tournaments you go to," said Muhammad.

"Here, we have had some of the top players in the world - like Ramin Azizov from Azerbaijan in our category - going out without a medal.

"It goes to show it does not necessarily mean because someone is ranked higher than one fighter, he is better.

"Unfortunately that is always going to be the public perception, but maybe these Olympics can help change that a bit."

GB Taekwondo performance director Gary Hall maintained the door would always be open for Cook, who last year left the elite training programme, to compete within the international squad.

"Aaron is a very talented fighter, and there are a number of very talented fighters coming up through the system," he said.

"It is our job at GB Taekwondo to work with any talented athlete who wants to compete for Great Britain.

"I hope Aaron continues to want to compete for Great Britain. If he does, then we will work with him again and carry on like professionals.

"We will support any GB athlete who has got the talent and ability to deliver on the big stage, which is what our job is all about."

Hall, however, insisted the moment belonged to Muhammad.

"The most important thing is we have a young man who has delivered a bronze medal in his first Olympic Games," Hall said.

"Lutalo became European champion in a very short space of time and the credit goes to him for the job he has done at the Olympics under incredible pressure."

PA

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