Will GB replicate Olympic taekwondo success at the Paralympics?

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Amy Truesdale
World Para-taekwondo Championships & Taekwondo Grand Prix on the BBC
Venue: Copper Box Arena, London Dates: 19-22 October
Coverage: Watch live on Connected TV, the BBC Sport website and mobile app.

Jade Jones' heroics at London 2012 and Rio 2016 helped put Olympic taekwondo firmly in the public consciousness here in the UK, but now the nation is searching for Para-taekwondo stars.

The sport will make its Paralympic debut at Tokyo 2020 and GB Taekwondo's podium plans are already taking shape.

In Amy Truesdale they possess a current world number one who, along with four new team-mates, has trained alongside - and impressed - established Olympians like Jones and world champion Bianca Walkden in recent months.

"Even we have been shocked by their progress," Walkden told BBC Sport.

"Their team has really developed into a taekwondo family now and their goal [Paralympic gold] is just as important as ours [Olympic gold]."

On Thursday the GB Para-taekwondo team will have the chance to prove their Paralympic potential and demonstrate the sport to a new audience as the World Championships take place in London.

How does Para-taekwondo work?

Only athletes who have full use of their legs, but possess arm impairments, will be eligible for the Games, with fighters entered into classifications ranging from K41 for the most disabled to K44 for the least impaired.

Fighters will use the same body protectors and scoring pads as their Olympic counterparts, meaning there will be visual similarities to the Olympic discipline - with kicks crucial to scoring points and winning fights.

However, kicking to the head is not permitted in Para-taekwondo, whilst fist punches to the body - which award one point in the Olympics - grant no points in the Paralympic form of the sport.

Athletes must therefore focus on securing strikes with the foot to the body, which carry more points than in Olympic taekwondo.

"People may think that head shots are the main exciting thing about taekwondo, to see knock-outs like Jade Jones does, but I think this [Para-taekwondo] is quicker," GB Para fighter Joseph Lane told BBC Sport.

"You have to be fast, be first and it's absolute war out there, which I think is really exciting and people will love watching."

Truesdale added: "We score one point for a regular kick to the body, three [points] for a back kick to the body, then for a 180 degree 'spinning kick' it's four points."

Fight duration will mimic that used at the Olympics, with three two-minute rounds used to decide the winner, while there will be an additional sudden-death/golden-point round if two fighters cannot be separated after the regular six minutes.

Should athletes then still be tied, the officials will award victory to the fighter who has demonstrated the greatest 'attacking play' during the contest.

Are GB any good?

Amy Truesdale
Truesdale is keen to take advantage of the "massive opportunity" of competing at the Paralympics

Britain will have five athletes in action at the Para-taekwondo World Championships in London on Thursday.

Truesdale - the current +58kg world number one - is the leading medal contender, having claimed World Championship gold in 2014 as well as three European titles.

She was born without the lower part of her left arm, but has also achieved medal success in able-bodied events in the UK.

"Everyone was bit surprised and shocked when it [taekwondo] was put into the Paralympics and it is pressure, but it's a massive opportunity," she told BBC Sport.

Men's heavyweight Matt Bush has a similar impairment to Truesdale, but jokingly tells many that he lost his left arm to a shark attack.

He competed in MMA and jujitsu as a youngster but had been taking part in shot putt and javelin in a bid to reach the Paralympics, prior to a timely injury which coincided with news of taekwondo's Tokyo 2020 place.

"Unlike in MMA I can't elbow you, I can't kick you to the leg, head or take you down, so it's taking away a lot of the tools I have, but it's a great challenge," said Bush.

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From rugby injury to the Para Taekwondo World Championships

Fellow Welshman Leif Thobroe (-61kg) was a kick-boxer as a child, but lost the use of his right arm after suffering nerve damage in a tackle while playing rugby in 2014.

"I went into a tackle down low and his knees came up and went into my neck and the collision ripped a nerve out of my spine," he told BBC Sport.

"It was a freak accident from a normal tackle and I was unlucky, but I was back doing martial arts within three months."

Lane, 19, (-75kg) played for the British amputee football team and had been looking at the possibility of being a goalkeeper for the GB blind football team in a bid to reach the Paralympics.

He took up taekwondo at the age of 12 and after being injured playing football, joined the GB setup earlier this year.

"When I was younger my brother made me watch all of the Bruce Lee films and made me do the splits, and I thought 'I can do that [taekwondo],' he told BBC Sport.

"It's been amazing trying a new sport which still involves kicking and I love fighting."

Another to watch is -58kg fighter Katie Elay, who has only been training in taekwondo for a matter of months and makes her competitive debut in London.

Learning from Olympians

Sarah Stevenson's bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games - Britain's first-ever Olympic taekwondo honour - kick-started a period of sustained medal success which has seen GB become one of the world's strongest taekwondo nations.

Three medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics was followed by a best-ever haul of five at this year's World Championships, and the Para fighters train just metres away from Britain's best able-bodied martial artists.

"I feel very lucky to be in this environment where I'm fighting with the very best in the world and can learn so much from their experiences," said Truesdale.

"It shows what can be achieved with these facilities, which are the best in the world," Lane told BBC Sport.

Joseph Lane
Lane believes people "will love watching" the fights, adding "it's absolute war out there"

Bush added: "It always helps training around champions as there are times you're feeling a bit tired and you look over and see them kicking hard and you get up and go again."

The team are also guided by former able-bodied European champion Andrew Deer.

"Knowing you have Olympians like Jade, Bianca, [Mahama] Cho and Lutalo [Muhammad] means there is so much experience and talent to feed off," he said.

"They can sit back and watch them for a two-minute round and look at how they can adapt that themselves for Para-taekwondo, so there's huge value in being here."

How would funding help?

Late last year UK Sport announced its financial support awards for the four year cycle leading into the Tokyo 2020 Games, with over £11m 'safeguarded' for sports making their Olympic and Paralympic debuts at the Games.

But the funding body said it required additional time to analyse Britain's true medal prospects at the Tokyo Games.

With the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) having finally confirmed its medal events in September, and with Para-taekwondo making the cut, UK Sport assessors will be taking a keen interest in results attained by GB fighters in London this week.

GB Taekwondo team
GB Para fighters currently train at the GB Taekwondo academy in Manchester three days per week

"We're in a good space right now but more investment will mean we could do big things," said GB coach Deer.

"I look at what Para-athletics have achieved with their support and I think 'well we could be the leading nation in this sport and UK Sport funding would really help us with medal prospects'."

GB Para fighters currently train at the GB Taekwondo academy in Manchester three days per week, but they hope more support will boost their programme further.

"We're out there proving ourselves on the world stage, but if they want the medals in Tokyo then we need the backing and funding to make it credible," GB fighter Bush told BBC Sport.

"I'm targeting every gold along the way to the 2020 Games, but Tokyo gold is the end goal for all of us."

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