A male coach who can mimic the world’s top female stars played a major part behind teenager Jade Jones becoming the first ever British Taekwondo Olympic gold medallist and, after launching the best victory celebration of any British Olympic champion, the Welsh girl nicknamed the “Head Hunter” has vowed to become an Olympic great.
Team GB Taekwondo Coach Paul Green acted as Jones’s training partner in the weeks, days and even hours running up to her -57kg Olympic campaign, not just teaching her new moves but imitating to a tee the double world champion and the world number one from China, both beaten by Jones on her way to Olympic gold.
"Everyone in the sport knows that Paul is a legend but his greatest trick is to be an identical opponent to so many of the world’s top stars and rivals to me,” the 19-year-old explained before heading off to Spain on holiday with her boyfriend, thus missing tomorrow’s open top bus parade in London."
"By the time I was about to compete against the Chinese girls I felt as if I knew every move, even though I hadn’t beaten them before. I think that ultimately surprised them. I wasn’t the favourite to win gold in their eyes, or anybody else’s for that matter. But I was in my eyes."
The sell-out crowd packed inside London’s Excel Centre expected China’s experienced Yuzhuo Hou to prevail, but Jones had other ideas. “I had five hours to wait on the day between winning my semi-final and competing in the final and although I was a bit nervous at first I came round to thinking that if I settled for a silver medal before the final I would have lost,” she admitted. “And if that had happened I would have been distraught.”
It was just 11 years earlier that her grandfather took her to a local Taekwondo club in Flint. “I was only eight but I’d already developed an attitude and had grown mischievous,” she recalled. “Taekwondo introduced respect and discipline into my life and everything improved, including my school work, once I started the sport.”
At 15 she watched Sarah Stevenson win bronze at the Beijing Olympics, before gaining selection for the National Academy in Manchester where, among others, Stevenson would coach her. Two years later, having been selected as a Jaguar Academy of Sport rising star, she was taken under the wing of double Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes who, although an athlete rather than a martial arts expert, mentored her.
“It was perfect for me because when I won competitions as a small kid I’d come running home and say I was just like Kelly Holmes. Then I won the Jaguar rising star award and the next thing she’s become my mentor.”
That same year Jones won a bronze medal in the senior European Championships, and then took gold at the Youth Olympics in Singapore. “That’s when I first set my sights on winning Olympic gold,” she revealed. “As I stood on the podium at the Youth Olympics I suddenly realised repeating the feat at the senior Olympics had become a distinct possibility. I knew it and, in time, my coaches knew it as well.”
Camped in Loughborough to maintain focus during the Games all Jones could do was watch Team GB amass gold after gold. “It was inspirational to watch, but it also got me wondering if after all those golds I’d be able to win one as well.”
On the sound of the final buzzer to confirm Olympic gold Jones confessed to “going bonkers.” She threw her helmet high towards the Excel Arena roof, completed a lap of honour waving both the Welsh flag and the Union Jack, and was then ordered by the match referee to retrieve her helmet. “You’re supposed to have your helmet with you at the end of a bout when you bow, so I received a slight ticking off for leaving it where it had landed,” Jones said, with a giggle. It was the only blip on an otherwise perfect night.
Of all 29 gold medals won during Team GB’s astonishing Games Jones was the youngest, and this, coupled with her history-making first British Taekwondo Olympic title, has made her feat even better. “It’s the icing on the cake,” she stated. “Judging by the increasing numbers at Taekwondo clubs around the country since my gold I’m hoping this is just the start of many golds to come over the years at the Olympics in British Taekwondo, but it’s kind of nice to know that whatever happens in the future, I was the first.”
Jones’ near future, post holiday, includes some celebrity appearances on TV shows such as Blue Peter, A Question of Sport and Alan Carr, and a little “chill time” before it is back to the gym. “I have two competitions next year before the world championships in Mexico in May,” she explains. “I may be the Olympic champion, which is the best title of the lot, but I’m not world champion and I’m not European champion either. It’s one thing being the underdog and winning an Olympic gold medal but now I’m there to be shot at and I’ve got to learn to deal with the expectation.”
She hardly seems fazed by the notion. “I’m only 19, I’ve got so much to learn and so much room for improvement. By rights I shouldn’t be near my best for at least six years, if not more. “If I can stay fit and motivated I’d like to defend my title in Rio in 2016, and go on to compete in the next three Olympics. I have one gold medal. I’d like lots more. I’d like to become an Olympic legend like Ben Ainslie did the other week by winning his fourth gold medal.”
It’s a bold statement from one so young but, then again, who will argue with the Head Hunter, who fixes you a last stare to make a final, telling comment. “One thing’s for sure. I have no plans to be a one-hit wonder.”
Jade Jones was the 2010 Jaguar Academy of Sport Star of the Future and is now supporting the next generation of sporting talent.