With a family history steeped in the sport, Jesús Tortosa’s fledgling taekwondo career has already taken him to some of sport’s greatest stages. Here, he discusses how it felt growing up as the son of an Olympian and how competing at the Youth Olympic Games helped prepare him for Rio 2016.
When an athlete raises a family, it is not uncommon for their children to follow in their footsteps, or at least try to. The knowledge and experience an athlete gains throughout a career are of huge benefit to any of their offspring who may have sporting ambitions of their own. However, a host of additional factors – including the pressure of expectation, both at home and in the media – means success is far from guaranteed.
Jesús Tortosa Almeda took a different approach. Having enjoyed great success throughout his career in taekwondo, winning numerous medals and taking part in the sport’s inaugural test event at the Olympic Games Seoul 1988, he allowed his children to practise several sports and choose their own paths.
However, for his eldest son – also called Jesús Tortosa – the call of the sport his father had excelled in proved too strong…
“I started taekwondo in a club at the age of four. But my father was a [taekwondo] fighter before, so they say I was born wearing a gi,” he jokes. “I also tried other sports like basketball and tennis, but it was difficult to concentrate on studies and do too many sports at the same time, so I chose taekwondo.”
However, Jesús Tortosa didn’t rely on the head start he got through his family’s links to the sport to make his mark. Instead, it was his self-belief and his will to be in complete control that steered him towards taekwondo.
“I was going to competitions knowing that it all depended on me, my training and my sacrifices, and that if I won, it was going to be for me and my coach.”
Early on in his career, Tortosa embarked on a life-changing trip to the spiritual home of taekwondo, the Republic of Korea. The journey had a profound effect on the young athlete, providing him with clear perspective.
“That trip changed my path in sport and my life in general. I was very young and went to Korea to live with a local family in a very poor house. I had to do all the jobs with them and go to training with them,” he reflects.
“They taught me how to train, and how to follow your dreams by working hard. Each member of the family makes sacrifices for their dreams: the father for the job, the boy for taekwondo. That is what changed my life.”
Stepping out of the shadows
Growing up in a taekwondo-mad household has its advantages in a sporting sense, but as the son of a legend of the sport, Tortosa could be forgiven for feeling extra pressure as he began taking part in elite competitions.
“Our father taught us taekwondo for the values. That means not focusing on becoming a champion or anything like that,” he explains.
“It wasn’t until we started competing that we realised it was going to be good for us, that we were good at this sport. There was no pressure. We did taekwondo because we wanted to.”
A valuable experience
One event that reduces the pressure to win medals by focusing on the overall experience of participating at an elite competition is the Youth Olympic Games (YOG), and Tortosa reflects proudly on his participation in the YOG Nanjing 2014, where he won a bronze medal.
“For me, I think that is one of the best championships I have ever been to in my life,” he says now.
“Maybe it’s because I was young and it was my first Olympic experience. It was something incredible. I carried the flag into the ceremony, so it was a really incredible experience.”
Lessons from my father
Tortosa’s home life has always overlapped his career, with his father acting as his coach. According to the young athlete, this has provided him with benefits his rivals may not have access to.
“My dad has coached me all my life, from when I was a kid. It is an advantage because not only is he my coach, he is also my dad. He knows all about me: how I am psychologically, how I am tactically, and how I am technically. He is the best person to train me.
“[He taught me about] professionalism, and the importance of having the discipline to continue training day after day, and to never give up. He taught me that some days you can win, some days you can lose, but you have to continue anyway, and maybe in the future the wins will come again.”
With Jesús Tortosa continuing to scale the summit of his sport – the 20-year-old is now an Olympian and the world no. 2 in his weight category – father and son should have plenty more wins to celebrate in the future.