Bianca Walkden: GB taekwondo fighter targets World Grand Slam Series

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter
Walkden against Ana Bajic in London
Bianca Walkden has made history with her Grand Prix success in 2017

World champion Bianca Walkden is targeting the most lucrative prize in taekwondo when the inaugural Grand Slam Series begins on Saturday in China.

Weight-category winners will collect a record prize fund of £52,000 each.

Walkden, 26, defended her world crown in 2017 and became the first fighter in history to win all four taekwondo Grand Prix events in a calendar year.

"It's a great opportunity for athletes to win something we've never had before," Walkden told BBC Sport.

"We don't get that much sponsorship or prize money at big events, and hopefully I can win this as well and it'll be like a Christmas bonus," she added.

The +67kg heavyweight from Liverpool followed up five major titles in 2017 by becoming the first taekwondo fighter to be nominated for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year Award earlier in December.

It capped a stunning comeback, following cruciate knee ligament injuries in 2011 and 2014 which almost ended her career.

"It really is quite surreal when you look back at what I've been through," said the Rio Olympic bronze medallist.

"It's harder when you're at the top and everyone is trying to beat you, but I go into every fight like I've not won anything and that keeps me hungry."

The inaugural World Taekwondo Grand Slam Champions Series in Wuxi, China, is an invitational event featuring the world's most decorated and popular fighters.

The contests will take place over four successive weekends with fights featuring new rules that reward athletes for extra spins and knockdowns. And these new rules could be introduced for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Rio Olympic silver medallist Lutalo Muhammad was due to compete on the opening weekend but has withdrawn to continue his rehabilitation following a long-standing knee problem.

London Grand Prix winner Lauren Williams, from Wales, will compete in the -67kg division on 6 January.

World Championships silver medallist Mahama Cho (+80kg) and 2016 World Grand Prix Final winner Charlie Maddock (-49kg) will fight on 13 January before double Olympic champion Jade Jones bids for the -57kg title on 20 January.

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