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A Youth Olympic Games gold medallist in 2010, Jade Jones boasts a record that is unrivalled in British taekwondo and is only the sixth athlete in the history of the sport to have won two Olympic gold medals. When Jade Jones beat China’s Hou Yuzhuo to win the Olympic 57kg taekwondo title and become Britain’s youngest gold medallist at London 2012, she celebrated by throwing her helmet in the air and completing a lap of honour of the ExCel. It was an exuberant display that breached protocol – competitors must keep their headgear on at the end of bouts and bow to their opponents – but it amply illustrated the 19-year-old’s delight at achieving a stunning victory.
Jones, who fuels her performances with pre-bout meals of jelly and pasta, described her triumph over two-time world champion Hou as “bonkers” and seemed more surprised at her success than the elated spectators. The fact is, though, she has been making dizzyingly rapid progress in the sport since taking it up at 15, at the suggestion of her grandfather, who thought it would keep her out of trouble. Hailing from Flint in Wales, Jones proved so adept at the martial art that she left school a year later to focus on her training.
Find her feet quickly in her chosen discipline, Jones won bronze at the 2010 European Championships in St Petersburg, Russia. Thanks to funding from the locals at her village pub, she then travelled to the inaugural Summer Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, beating Vietnam’s Thanh Thao Nguyen 9-6 in the final of the 55kg category to win gold. A day after collecting bronze in the 57kg division at the US Open in February 2011, the Welsh fighter won the 62kg class, her maiden international senior title. Though she had to settle for silver at the World Championships in the Republic of Korea later that year, she claimed the British Open title in Manchester that October. A runner-up to China’s Yun Wang at the 2012 German Open, she picked up another European bronze before taking her first tilt at Olympic glory in London.
Jones won through to her first Olympic final by beating Tseng Li-Cheng of Chinese Taipei in the semis. In a cagey final, she was on the wrong end of some painful blows from Hou in the second round, but eventually wore her opponent down and clinched a 6-4 victory with a thrilling, clinical performance in the final round. Taewkondo’s newest star later revealed that her success was down to forensic study of her potential rivals ahead of the Games, along with a daily five-hour regime of sparring and weight training. Mental toughness played its part too, with Jones revealing that she had to fight through the pain barrier to win: “I hurt my foot in the very first fight. It was a kick to the shin, so I had an injection in it. At first, I was whingeing and feeling sorry for myself, but I just had to deal with it because I wanted to win.”
Being an Olympic champion was no guarantee of continued success, however, as Jones found when her 2013 World Championship campaign was cut short in the quarter-finals. “I’d put the Olympics on such a pedestal that when it was over it was an anticlimax,” she said afterwards. Reminded by her coach Paul Green that she would always be an Olympic champion and that she should take pleasure from fighting rather than put pressure on herself, Jones got back to winning ways on the international scene and regained her No1 world ranking. She followed up by taking European Games gold in Baku in 2015 and then limbered up for Rio 216 by claiming the European title that June.
The favourite to retain her Olympic title in Brazil, the Welsh fighter justified that status with an impressive campaign. A 12-4 winner over Morocco’s Naima Bakkal, Jones then beat Belgium’s Raheleh Asemani 7-2 in the quarter-finals and Sweden’s Nikita Glasnovic 9-4 in the semis to set up a final with Spain’s Eva Calvo. A brace of head kicks took the defending champion into a 6-0 in the first round before the Spaniard stormed back to close the gap to 7-6 by the end of the second. Jones was not be denied, however, registering two more quick-fire head kicks en route to a commanding 16-7 win that made her the only taekwondo fighter, male or female, to retain an Olympic title at Rio 2016. “I’m so proud of myself because I didn’t realise how much pressure I would feel coming into these Games,” said the double champion. “I started crying before the semi-final because I was just so nervous and felt so much pressure. But I pulled it off when it mattered so I’m just so happy. I know inside I’m the best but you can still lose so it’s such a scary feeling. You’ve trained for four years of your life, six hours a day, and when it pays off it just feels amazing.”