GB Taekwondo begin 'Fighting Chance: Battle for Brazil'

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter
Young martial artists are tested in the first phase of 'Fighting Chance: Battle for Brazil'

GB Taekwondo hope a new batch of recruits will help them unearth the sport's future Olympic athletes.

Almost 500 applied for the UK Sport backed 'Fighting Chance'external-link initiative which aims to find those outside of the Olympic taekwondo discipline who have the potential to excel in the sport.

Of those, 238 were invited to take part in the first phase in Manchester.

A similar scheme in 2009 helped unearth Lutalo Muhammad, who went on to win -80kg Olympic bronze in London.

"Some of the talent we have seen this year has been hugely exciting," GB performance director Gary Hall told BBC Sport.

"The last one [Fighting Chance initiative] was really successful for us with Lutalo going on to win the Europeans and Olympic bronze.

"The doors are wide open for all practitioners of taekwondo plus all of the other martial arts to get on a journey towards Rio 2016."

In addition to rigorous strength, agility and fitness tests, the athletes were also thrown into fight scenarios which saw those from different sports paired together in front of an X Factor-style judging panel.

"It was very difficult," admitted 17-year-old Dan Nicholls,external-link who began karate at the age of five.

"Transferring from a sport where you use mostly your hands and some legs to the opposite and the referee stops you every time your instinct kicks in and you try to throw a punch is tricky.

"Both require strong counter-attacking, though, so that is something that transfers over quite well."

His opponent, 20-year-old Conor Lilley, who competes in a non-Olympic International Taekwondo Federation [ITF]external-link form of the sport, was pleased with his performance in the fight scenario.

GB Taekwondo launch 'Battle for Brazil'

"I wasn't sure what it would be like going up against an athlete from karate and facing the new rules, but I felt I gave a good account of myself," Lilley told BBC Sport.

"Hopefully I can go can make it through because it's my dream to compete for an Olympic medal."

World Champion in 2011 and Beijing Olympic bronze medallist Sarah Stevenson was part of the panel and knows first-hand what new recruits can bring to the programme.

"We don't want people to come here and just do taekwondo," Stevenson told BBC Sport. "We want to see what they have from their own style and skills and try to add ours to their strengths.

"There have been some amazing kickers and skills that we've seen and you think, 'Wow, we don't do that, perhaps we should learn from them'."

'Fighting Chance: Battle for Brazil' is one of several talent identification programmes run by UK Sport and the English Institute of sport in conjunction with national governing bodies, which aims to locating and developing more British talent.

Other schemes have include Girls4Gold, Pitch to Podium and Paralympic Potential, but the highest profile has been the 'Sporting Giants' project launched in 2007 by Sir Steve Redgrave.

It helped discover rower Helen Glover, who alongside Heather Stanning, won Great Britain's first gold medal at the London Olympics. Eight other London Games athletes from handball and canoeing were also discovered through the scheme.

In the previous 'Fighting Chance' recruitment drive, six athletes were selected to join the GB squad for a probationary period, three of whom [Muhammad, Damon Sansum and Ruebyn Richards] have gone on to win international medals.

This time around, from the 238 candidates who progress from the initial written applications, 80-100 are likely to be invited back for the second stage.

That number will then be whittled down to around 30 for a 'boot camp' phase before a small group are selected to join the GB Taekwondo academy in early August this year.