Bianca Walkden plots route to taekwondo gold at Paris 2024

Three-time world champion Walkden had to settle for Olympic bronze in Tokyo.

Jamie Gardner
Thursday 29 July 2021 13:39
Bianca Walkden is determined to get to Paris and claim a gold medal (Mike Egerton/PA)
Bianca Walkden is determined to get to Paris and claim a gold medal (Mike Egerton/PA)

Taekwondo star Bianca Walkden is planning one more shot at Olympic gold medal glory in Paris in three years’ time after her last-second disappointment in Tokyo

World champion Walkden was on course for a shot at gold or silver in the +67kg category and led her opponent Lee Da-bin of South Korea with two seconds to go before a three-point head kick condemned her to a painful defeat.

She salvaged bronze but admitted afterwards to feeling “a little dead inside”.

However, missing out on gold and the chance to enjoy the Olympic experience with family and friends has only fuelled the 29-year-old’s desire to go for gold again in Paris.

“I’m still world number one and I’m still a champion,” the Liverpool athlete told the PA news agency.

“If I have a chance to go out and compete in Paris again I’ll give everything to have that one more shot at the title.

“It’s only three years away and hopefully I would like to end it with my family being there in the crowd, with the big feeling again rather than no family, no friends, no atmosphere.

“I would like to end it in Paris with my family and friends getting to see it, and hopefully I can end it with a gold medal.”

The withdrawal of American gymnast Simone Biles from the team and all-around finals has brought the issue of mental health within elite-level sport back into the spotlight, and Walkden admits the brutal ups and downs demonstrated in the Olympic taekwondo competition can be very tough to deal with.

It’s hard to take – I don’t want to get defined as just that one Olympics.

Bianca Walkden

“I know how hard it is to be that consistent, (to be a) three-time world champion, three-time European champion and be consistently world number one all that time,” said Walkden, who also won bronze at Rio 2016.

“It’s been so hard, over and over again, and then knowing I have to go to the Olympics, wanting that gold medal and that anything can change. It’s hard to take – I don’t want to get defined as just that one Olympics.

“It is a lot of pressure if I don’t get the gold – will I get looked at as the best, as a champion? It is mentally tough, and it can change in seconds.

“Even the best can lose. There are so many things you can’t control, so the biggest thing you have to do is control your mind in every situation.

“I set my bar so high, I could have been so proud of myself just for going out there and getting another medal, but because I only wanted gold, and I put that standard on myself, that’s the pressure I give myself.

“Pressure from other people can be a privilege as well though – you only get that pressure because people believe in you.

“Pressure is good to have and it’s an honour to have, but at the same time it’s hard to manage and deal with.”

Walkden arrived back in the UK on Wednesday evening and was greeted at the airport by friends and family, whose support she had missed at the Games after attendance was strictly limited due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Even now, coming back and watching it on TV, there’s no one there and that’s what makes you feel part of the journey. It felt like just us (the athletes), it didn’t feel like anyone was watching us,” she said.

“So then when we got back we realised how important it was, when our families were there cheering for us at the airport. The Olympics are all about the atmosphere, having your family there, and it wasn’t quite the same because of the pandemic.”

She says she now intends to eat, party and put her feet up, and catch up on the rest of the Olympics from the sofa.