How much more taekwondo heartache can Team GB suffer?
Lauren Williams was leading her welterweight gold medal contest by three points with just ten seconds remaining but a late flurry from Croatia’s Matea Jelic denied her glory and left her stunned on the sidelines.
Just 24 hours after Bradly Sinden let a late lead slip in his final and Jade Jonescrashed to a shock first-round exit, it’s been a Games of mixed emotions for GB’s taekwondo players at the Makuhari Messe. Two silver medals have been chalked up but it was nearly so much more.
With Bianca Walkden and Mahama Cho to come on Tuesday, who knows what twist this plot will take next.
What is certain is that Williams knows she needs to address how she finishes fights after admitting concentration is an Achilles heel.
“I didn’t know there was only ten seconds left. He threw me back to the World Championships in 2017, I did exactly the same thing. It is a mental block I need to get over,” she said.
“It is the biggest stage of my career and hopefully it will never happen again.
“But I never thought that girl in 2012 would be alongside the best athletes in the world carrying a medal around.”
Williams has time on her side and will no doubt come again at the next Olympics in Paris, which are just three years away. She’s come too far and sacrificed too much to be content with silver.
Williams was talent-spotted and invited to train at the GB Taekwondo academy, almost 200 miles away from her home in Blackwood, south Wales.
Not many mums would quit their job, leave the family home and live in a caravan for 18 months so their child could get the best training, but Tanya Williams decided to do just that until Lauren was old enough to live in athletes’ accommodation. They left dad Allan and younger sister Kirstie behind and family time was difficult to organise, with weekend training sessions and matches across the country. But you can guarantee the next time they meet, it will be a reunion to remember.
“It has been difficult but I would not change anything for the world,” whose near Tokyo miss was broadcast live on Eurosport and Discovery+.
“I was FaceTiming my parents all day, just for that reassurance it’s just another competition. Once they knew I was in the final, they had cameras around the house and my mum went out for snacks because she had nothing in.”
Williams has also emerged from the shadow of her training partner Jones, who was there watching in the Japanese capital.
She blitzed Tonga’s Malia Paseka to the extent the referee stopped the contest, beat Egypt’s Hedaya Wahba 13-12 and followed up with a 24-18 victory against Ivory Coast’s Ruth Gbagbi.
Then came a thrilling final. Williams held a 5-4 lead after the first round and was then level at 10-10 after the second against the top-seeded Jelic, who beat her in the European Championship final in May.
Jelic edged 13-12 in front in the final round but Williams scored four points in quick succession courtesy of two blows to the midriff.
That advantage was as big as six points with less than 30 seconds to go but as Jelic rallied, Williams faltered – 25-22 the winning score. The end was sudden and decisive, as the Croatian scored eight points via four blows.
“I’m very happy with how I performed all day, it’s gutting in the last ten [seconds]. But an Olympic silver medal, it’s not bad is it?” she said.
“I’ve not had the best preparation at all. I tore my hamstring three weeks ago. But that’s not an excuse, I felt good coming here today, I’ve had injuries, I came out to the games late as well which damaged my prep.
“But as soon as I got here, I hit the ground running and I was pretty confident going into today, so I’m happy.
“It’s been absolutely crazy. For my first Olympic Games, it’s been insane.
“Every four weeks I have something going on, I tore my hamstring three weeks before and it was the leg I need to fight on. I spurs me om, same athletes are overcome by them but not me.
“Injuries don’t scare me, they empower me. I am happy with my performance.”
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By Charlie Bennett