Stevenson wants world medal for critically ill parents

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter

"It's only April, but this has been the worst year of my life," says Olympic bronze medallist Sarah Stevensonexternal-link as she prepares to take part in the Taekwondo World Championships in Korea.

In January Stevenson's mother, Diana, was diagnosed with terminal cancer and since she began chemotherapy treatment, the family also learnt that Stevenson's father, Roy, had a brain tumour - which was operated on last week.

The 28-year-old fighter has missed events in the United States and Germany this year while she cared for her parents and is yet to compete in 2011.

"As soon as I learnt about my mum I realised that taekwondo is not the first thing in my life any more; my family is and they're more important to me now than ever," said Stevenson.

"If it wasn't for them I wouldn't have been able to achieve what I have."

Stevenson is no stranger to high emotion in the ring.

At the Beijing Olympics, a controversial judging decision saw her eliminated at the quarter-final stage, but she was reinstated and battled her way to a bronze medal.

After a year away from the sport through injury, the Doncaster fighter returned in 2010 with victory at the European Championships in Russia, regaining the world number one ranking in the process.

She also married long-term partner and GB coach Steve Jennings in Mexico in November.

"My mum and dad were both there and my dad was able to walk me down the aisle," said Stevenson.

"It was luck really that I got married last year, because if it had been this year I don't know if I would be able to have my dream wedding.

"Last year was a good year, this year not so good, but winning a medal at the Worlds would make it a little bit easier I think."

It is with some reluctance that the two-time world champion prepares to fight for another title in Gyeongju, Korea but the 28-year-old accepts it is the one way she can do something for her parents.

"They want me to go and they want me to still do what I do," she said.

"I know it's going to be a hard time mentally - it's going to be the hardest time of my life to go over there and try and focus - but I've been doing all right [in training] so if I can focus on the day I still think that I've got a good chance.

"Winning a medal would bring a smile to my face and all my family's faces, so I'm doing it for them."

The World Championships, which run from 1 to 6 May, form a vital part of the selection procedure for the 2012 Olympics.

At the end of next month, British Taekwondo must submit the names of athletes in four weight categories (two male and two female) that they wish to compete in the London Games.

The women's selection is likely to be particularly tough, with Youth Olympic gold medallist Jade Jonesexternal-link - who has been in scintillating form this year - and 2010 World Martial Arts champion Bianca Walkdenexternal-link both pushing Stevenson for GB berths.

"The World Championships is so important for 2012, I've got to be there and I've got to show that despite everything that's going on, that I can still do it," said Stevenson.

"To be honest, standing in the ring at the Worlds is going to be easier than being at home with my parents because I know I can't help them.

"So whoever's standing in front of me is not going to know what's hit them because I'm going to go for it."

Stevenson is expected to step away from the sport after the 2012 Olympics and, while she hopes to win another medal in London, her dream is simply that her parents will be around to see her compete.