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'There's no reason why I can't come home from Tokyo with a gold medal'

Irish taekwondo athlete Jack Woolley has already written history, but he’s eyeing more – and the biggest prize in the world.

Jack Woolley has been officially selected to compete for Team Ireland at the Olympic Games this summer.
Jack Woolley has been officially selected to compete for Team Ireland at the Olympic Games this summer.
Image: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

JACK WOOLLEY IS gunning for gold in Tokyo this summer, make no qualms about it.

The Dubliner made history in December 2019 when he became the first-ever Irish taekwondo athlete to qualify for the Olympic Games, and was officially confirmed as a Team Ireland member by the Olympic Federation of Ireland [OFI] today.

Woolley agonisingly missed out on a ticket to Rio 2016, but he immediately set his sights on Japan, bouncing back stronger and finding a rich vein of form.

And now, the 22-year-old has no reason to believe why he can’t return to Irish soil this summer as an Olympic champion. Assured in his own ability, straight-talking, and with a steely determination in his eye, the Tallaght man backs himself each and every step of the way.

“I am confident,” he told The42 this afternoon. “I think that anybody going into an Olympic Games who’s not looking for gold, I don’t think they should really go.

“I don’t understand… you’re going to a competition to win it. In my opinion, it’s the biggest sporting event in the world. You have to be going to go for gold and there’s no reason why I couldn’t.

“If we did qualify for Rio, I would have still had the same mindset: ‘Oh, we’re going for gold,’ but realistically, in hindsight, thinking back, we were going more for participation. We didn’t qualify, but this Games, it’s five years on from the last one. I’m a lot older, I’m a lot more mature and a lot better at the sport, if I think back on it.

“There’s no reason why I can’t. I’ve fought most of the players that have qualified, I’ve either beat them or it’s been a close match, so there’s no reason — if I go out and perform 100% on the day — why I can’t be coming home with a gold medal.

Never mind being Ireland’s first qualified athlete in taekwondo, I want to be the first Olympic champion in the sport as well for the country.”

That piece of history from 2019 is one Woolley is certainly proud of, but he’s far from resting on his laurels.

To have been unveiled as a member of Team Ireland today was another welcome step along the way, his position solidified as he now ramps up his preparations towards 24 July — the date he graces the world’s biggest stage and becomes one of the Ireland’s first athletes in action at the Games, all going to plan.

Reflecting on his qualification exploits, he notes: “When we first qualified, the day we found out, it was a relief. It wasn’t like this big, amazing moment, it was like, ‘Okay, there’s so much weight off my shoulders, we don’t have to go into a qualification event.’

“I wouldn’t have coped with lockdown at all if I had not qualified, I can tell you that now. If I hadn’t have qualified, we would have had to go to the qualifications, and they were postponed due to Covid. They still haven’t happened yet.

“So that uncertainty of the Olympic Games, whether I would be going or not… I don’t even want to think about it. It was a positive experience for me knowing that I’d qualified, knowing that I can relax a bit, I can spend some time training for it, I can use this year to get better and stronger.

I know I might have moved up a weight in 2017 from the 54kg category, but I still felt there was somewhere else I could push myself in order to be a better, stronger player for the 58kg category. I was still probably walking around a little bit too light, I could have been a bit stronger. But now I definitely feel like I’m in a better place. And we’ve not got long now ’til the Games.”

The third lockdown has been really difficult, he concedes, but the Games is the light at the end of the tunnel he needs.

With recent top-level competition under his belt from the European Championships Olympic Weight Categories in December, Woolley is now well and truly building towards The Main Event.

A bronze there was disappointing, he concedes, but he took the positives after the lengthy layoff — and medalling at Europeans upon his return was certainly one.

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jack-woolley-is-presented-with-his-bronze-medal Woolley (furthest right) on the podium at Europeans in December. Source: Aleksandar Djorovic/INPHO

“It wasn’t worst case scenario. To be honest, all the top athletes at that competition that are ranked or qualified for Tokyo, I was the only one in the division to take a medal. I looked at the positives. I said, ‘Okay, you’re the best off out of that group of players that’s going to the Olympics now, just keep pushing.’”

And having enjoyed some training camps in Serbia since, everything is building nicely.

“I’m very lucky to be able to still travel for sports reasons,” he concludes. “There’s a lot of testing involved. I think I’ve had 24 Covid tests now in order to travel and compete and come home and stuff.

“Training, I’m getting on with it. I took a bit of a dip but I think that was gonna happen eventually. When you’re doing so well, there’s always going to be a little bit of fall off. And I don’t want to peak at the moment, I want to peak at the Olympic Games.

“The fact that there was a little bit of a dip with a bronze at the Europeans that probably should have been a gold, it’s not important to me. I don’t want to dwell on the past. I’m just going to go in and say, ‘I’m going to peak at the Olympic Games, and we’re going to take a gold medal,’ and that’s what the training will have paid off for.”

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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