World Taekwondo Grand Prix: British fighters target success

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter
GB Taekwondo fighters preview the Manchester Grand Prix

British fighters are hoping to use the inaugural World Taekwondo Grand Prix in Manchester to banish memories of a disappointing World Championships.

Despite winning two London Olympic medals none of the nine-strong GB team were able to finish on the podium in Mexico in July.

Gold medallist Jade Jones claimed the rest of the world had "caught up" with the GB team, but now insists they are capable of making an impact once again.

"We are ready," Jones told BBC Sport.

Muhammad & Cook "keen" to fight one another

"It hasn't been the best of years after the Olympics, which was such a high but I think it's an amazing learning curve," she added.

The Manchester Grand Prixexternal-link marks the start of the qualification campaign for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Those ranked in the top six of each Olympic division after the final Grand Prix event in 2015 will be guaranteed places in Brazil.

Jones, 20, lost in the -57kg quarter-finals at the World Championships and only returned to full-time training in November after struggling with a back injury. However, she is confident of success in Manchester.

"I've got in more training than I expected," said the fighter who will open her campaign against Mexico's Jessica Renee Chavez-Rivera.external-link

"I'm feeling confident and looking forward to getting out there in Manchester and starting my bid to qualify automatically for Rio."

Lutalo Muhammad, 22, was two wins away from an -87kg World Championships medal in the summer, but is now back in the -80kg division - in which he claimed London Olympic bronze.

It means he could face rival Aaron Cook, 22, for the first time since their bitter battle for a place in Team GB for last year's Games, in which Muhammad was controversially selected ahead of then world number one Cook.

"Going out in the quarter-finals was really quite depressing," reflected Muhammad.

"I had a little injury going into it, but that's all cleared up now. If that fight [with Cook] happens, then it happens, but it's about more than just me and Mr Cook as there are so many strong fighters in the division."

Cook admits he is keen to face Muhammad and they are in opposite sides of the draw,external-link meaning they could only meet if both win through to the final.

"If it happens it's going to be a great match," Cook told BBC Sport.

"I'm not going in there thinking I'm going to knock him out or beat him by 12 points, it's going to be a very close and intense match which the crowd will enjoy and I'm ready for it."

Andrew Deer is the other British competitor in the -80kg division, while there are also three home fighters in the men's -68kg division - Olympians Martin Stamper and Michael Harvey as well as Jordan Gayle.

"We have three guys in there, all world class, all beating each other in the gym every day and it's hard to call who will win, but it's great to have this depth of quality," said their coach Steve Jennings.

"I think -68kg is the toughest category but the boys are ready."

Jones battles to historic Olympic taekwondo gold

Multiple open champion Bianca Walkden, 22, is determined to finally attain a major medal and put the disappointment of missing out on London 2012 behind her.

"The last few years have been the biggest rollercoaster, but you can't change the past and I have to just go out there and give it my best," she said.

"I know what I'm capable of doing and it's in Manchester, our home ground, so I'll be doing all I can to push the limits and give it my best shot."

The Grand Prix will also see the return of Mahama Cho.external-link

The 24-year-old Ivory Coast-born fighter quit the British setup in 2011 and competed for France earlier this year - winning gold at the German and Dutch Opens, but has now been enticed back to the GB Academy in Manchester.

British fighters in action at the Manchester Grand Prix:

Friday, 13 December: -49kg Georgia Barnes; +67kg Bianca Walkden, Stephanie Allen; +80kg Mahama Cho.

Saturday, 14 December: -58kg Dominic Brookes; -80kg Lutalo Muhammad, Aaron Cook, Andrew Deer; -67kg Maria Reynolds.

Sunday, 15 December: -57kg - Jade Jones, Caroline Fisher; -68kg Martin Stamper, Michael Harvey, Jordan Gayle

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