Bianca Walkden wants Olympic taekwondo place after injury 'hell'

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter
World Taekwondo GP: Jade Jones & Bianca Walkden target gold
World Taekwondo Grand Prix
Venue: Regional Arena, Manchester Date: 16-18 October Time: 18:30 (16 & 17) 17:30 (18) Coverage: Live on BBC Red Button, BBC Sport website and connected TVs

World champion Bianca Walkden hopes to take a "massive" step towards the Rio Olympics by claiming gold at the Manchester World Taekwondo Grand Prix.

Walkden needs a top-six world ranking by the end of 2015 to secure Great Britain a +67kg Olympic berth and is currently third.

She missed much of last year following a knee ligament injury but recovered to take world gold in Russia in May.

"I've done really well to get back, but I'm not there [in Rio] yet," she said.

"I'm probably only at about 80% of my powers still as it takes so long to come back from an injury like I had."

Walkden continued: "The World Championship gold was a surprise and took a lot of pressure off in terms of qualifying for Rio, but I still need more points and winning in Manchester would be massive for me."

Victory in Manchester, where she is part of a 16-strong British team, would secure her 40 ranking points.

GB Manchester World Taekwondo Grand Prix squad
-58kg: Josh Calland, Max Cater-68kg: Jordan Gayle, Michael Harvey, Martin Stamper-80kg: Lutalo Muhammad, Damon Sansum, Tom Smith+80kg: Mahama Cho, Lyle Walker-49kg: Abi Stones-57kg: Rachelle Booth, Jade Jones-67kg: Carla Summerhill+67kg: Bianca Walkden

That would also qualify her for the Grand Prix final in December, which is the last opportunity to boost her standing before the first round of qualification ends on the sixth of that month.

Should she miss out on a top-six finish then Walkden would be likely to return for the European Olympic qualification event in Istanbul, Turkey from 16-17 January, where a top-two finish would be enough for a Rio place.

'I couldn't believe it was happening again'

Walkden is no stranger to injuries, having ruptured the ligaments in her left knee in 2010 - a problem that effectively ended her chances of securing a place at London 2012.

Fuelled by the desire not to miss out on another Olympics Walkden secured her maiden European crown in early 2014, but just over a month later at the Grand Prix in Turkey the ligaments in her right knee gave way.

"Everything had been going so well and I was beating so many fighters," recalls Walkden.

"Then the ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] just snapped. I knew straight away what it was and couldn't believe it was happening all over again."

But her operation was a success and Walkden made her competitive return in early 2015 and produced a stunning performance to claim her maiden world title in Chelyabinsk, Russia in May.

"Having had the injury before has helped in a way because I know what I have to do to recover," she said.

"If I hadn't won at the Worlds and claimed so many ranking points, I would have been struggling for Rio.

"I'm in a good place now though and having the chance to fight for gold in Rio after everything I've been through would be a dream."

GB Taekwondo competitor Lutalo Muhammad in action
Olympic bronze medallist Lutalo Muhammad is vying for one place at Rio with world silver medallist Damon Sansum

GB's other Olympic contenders

While Olympic champion and current -57kg world number one Jade Jones is already guaranteed a top-six ranking in her division, several of the Welsh fighter's team-mates are still seeking to secure that status.

One of the most intriguing battles will be in the men's -80kg division where Olympic bronze medallist Lutalo Muhammad and world silver medallist Damon Sansum are vying for one Olympic place.

Muhammad faced a similar battle with Aaron Cook before London 2012, but Cook has since switched allegiance and now fights for Moldova.

Heavyweight Mahama Cho was ranked inside the top three 18 months ago but has struggled to find consistency of late and is currently down in eighth. Bronze medals at the recent Russian Grand Prix and Polish Open show he is returning to form and another podium finish in Manchester will be key to his Olympic hopes.

Rising star Charlie Maddock, who won European Games gold in Azerbaijan this year in the women's -49kg class, is out of the event following a series of "niggles" which have effectively ended her hopes of reaching Rio.