GB set for crucial European Taekwondo Championships

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter

British fighters have a final chance to prove they deserve places in the London Olympic squad at this week's European Taekwondo Championships in Manchester.

Four athletes will be named in the Team GB taekwondo squad by the end of May.

Defending champion Aaron Cook and world medallists Jade Jones and Martin Stamper currently lead the charge in their respective divisions.

"There's still some points to be made out there on the mat," GB performance director Gary Hall told BBC Sport.

"The athletes see it as a test. They have performances on their mind and they want to show the selectors that they are able to perform in front of a home crowd and deliver the goods when it matters."

Only a disastrous performance or injury for Cook, who has won seven international titles since quitting the GB set-up last year, is likely to prevent him from securing the -80kg Olympic place for a second Games in a row.

"I'm training really hard, five-six hours per day, so there's a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but hopefully it'll all pay off and I can retain my title in front of a home crowd," Cook told BBC Sport.

Flint-fighter Jones is in an equally strong position having followed up her historic Youth Olympic Games title with a silver at the senior World Championships last year.

The battle for places intensifies in the men's -68kg and women's -67kg divisions.

Martin Stamper secured a brilliant bronze at last year's World Championships and won 27 of 29 fights, but he has failed to win a medal so far in 2012 and is being pushed hard by -63kg world silver medallist Michael Harvey.

"Last year gave me a huge amount of confidence," said Stamper.

"Unfortunately it hasn't been the best of starts to the year, but I'm still in a strong position and, if I take gold, I know that I'm there [London 2012]."

With world champion Sarah Stevenson missing the Europeans through injury, Liverpool's under -73kg British Champion Bianca Walkdenexternal-link has stepped down a division to occupy a position in the Olympic -67kg category.

Stevenson is said to be recovering from a knee-ligament problem "ahead of schedule" and could be ready for combat work next month. It means that, realistically, Walkden needs to secure a medal if she is to stand any chance of convincing the GB Olympic selectors.

"I have nothing to lose now," admitted Walkden, who endured her own injury heartache in 2011.

"I have to focus on fight by fight, round by round, and give everything I've got to that 1% chance, because I'm not letting this go."

The British team finished fifth at the previous European Championships in Russia, with two gold and two bronze medals, and with home advantage they are targeting more in Manchester.