By Steven Oldham
Recently crowned European Taekwondo champion Bianca Walkden is now aiming for Olympic gold after securing her first major international in Azerbaijan earlier
The 22-year-old beat Russia’s Olga Ivanova in the final of the women’s +73kg weight division in Baku on May 2 to win her most high profile title to date.
Bianca’s gold was the highlight of a strong British performance at the Championships which saw the team scoop an impressive seven medals, their best ever
haul. Liverpool-born Walkden - who won bronze in 2010 at the same event - believes her victory has helped her turn a corner after previous disappointment
in major tournaments, including last year’s World Championships where she failed to make the quarter finals. “It was a great moment when I won. There’s
a video clip of me celebrating after I won which I think says it all really. It was a relief to win. I have proved I can do it at the top level,” she said.
After receiving a bye for the first round, she eliminated Poland’s Aleksandra Kowalczuk 8-2, before whitewashing Serbian fighter Ana Bajic 6-0 in the semis
to set up the final with Ivanova. Despite the convincing scorelines, Bianca is insistent she did not find her path to European glory easy. “I had three
tough fights. Now I know I can win gold I want to do it again. My next target is the next Grand Prix event in China in July, and beyond that my ultimate
aim is the Rio 2016 Olympics.
What did I do differently? The main difference was I was more relaxed. I was more composed - taking the tournament fight by fight, round by round. It
was definitely a change in my mental approach which helped me - I’m pretty OK with the kicking side,” she said modestly. Rio 2016 remains the big target
for Bianca, one made bigger after missing out on selection for her home Olympics in 2012. GB Taekwondo went with veteran and Beijing 2008 bronze medal
winner Sarah Stevenson in her place.
“Yes, Rio is my ultimate focus. My aim is to be ranked in the top six fighters in the world by December next year. That way, I will qualify for Rio -
it’s the most straight forward way to get there. It works on a point system - I currently have 40 points. I was on 25 at the start of the year, so the
European title has helped me catch up,” she explained.
In the latest rankings, without her victory in Baku included, Bianca lies 12th in the world rankings. Beaten finalist Ivanova is currently second to France’s
Anne Caroline Graffe. After some time off following the Euros, Bianca and the rest of the British team return to action at the Austrian Open this weekend.
Walkden and the other British fighters are based in Manchester, and currently enjoy increased central funding following a successful home Games two years
ago. Jade Jones made history by taking the country’s first Olympic gold. Lutalo Muhammad won bronze in the men’s heavyweight competition to cement a best-ever
Games for Team GB.
Being a full time Taekwondo player is not for the faint hearted. Athletes train six days a week, with three sessions a day Monday-Thursday, two on a Friday
and one on Saturday before their day off. Fighters work on everything from sparring and pad work, to strength building weights and cardio to keep them
at the top of their game.
As Bianca’s star rises, and with Taekwondo’s popularity growing thanks to the London 2012 effect, she is aware of her responsibilities to future generations.
“I’d like to think of myself as a role model. When I was growing up I was just a kid who did Taekwondo because I loved it. I hope kids can look up to
me, as I’ve shown I can fight and beat the best players in the world. I’d like to inspire them,” she said.
So which sportswomen did the young Bianca look up to?
“I loved watching Dame Kelly Holmes win her two gold medals in Athens. Her success was a big influence on me. Also, the pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva.
I love watching people who dominate their sport and she did that,” she said.
It is obvious Bianca is determined to rise as high as she can and only a fool would write her off achieving her ultimate ambition of Olympic gold.