A forlorn-looking Jade Jones admitted she was left feeling “absolutely gutted” by defeat at the first hurdle in Tokyo 2020.
Jones came to these Olympic Games looking to become the first taekwondo athlete to win a third gold medal. However, she lost her last-16 contest to the Refugee Team competitor Kimia Alizadeh, ending hopes of successfully defending her 2012 and 2016 titles, and leaving one of Britain’s most successful Olympians close to tears inside the Makuhari Messe Hall in Tokyo.
“I’m absolutely gutted – it’s not how I planned my day to go and I’m just really frustrated with myself,” Jones said afterwards, before paying tribute to her opponent, and admitting the pressure of the situation had affected her in the run-up to competition day.
Jones was perhaps at a slight disadvantage given Alizadeh, a bronze medalist from Rio, had already fought once due to the unusual odd-numbered draw, but she refused to make excuses. “I just have to take it on the chin and congratulate the other girl,” she said. “It was a tough draw and I didn’t know who I was going to be fighting until two hours before, but I have no excuses.
“I just put too much pressure on myself going into it, and I really did feel it more than I expected on the day. Not having my family there to push me out of that fear zone really did affect me, and I’m just gutted that I couldn’t have done more on the day.”
For Jones the pain of defeat was made a little more raw by the need to wait two hours to discover whether she would be asked to fight again in the repechage for a shot at the bronze. Had Alizadeh reached the final Jones would have been one of the fighters entered into the bronze medal contests, a rule designed to favour those who lose early on in a particularly tough draw.
Alizadeh’s defeat in the semi-final to Tatiana Minima meant Jones would not be asked to rouse herself to fight again, and that her defence of her gold ended with a fight that she never quite found a way into. Jones lamented her own – relative – passivity in the fight: “I didn’t switch into attack mode, I stayed in scared mode.”
Asked how she would process the shock of a first Olympic defeat at her third Games she simply said, “I don’t know, I’ve never had to do it before, I’ll let you know”, and refused the temptation to commit to another shot at the next Games in three years’ time.
“Obviously it’s easy to say woulda coulda shoulda because champions adapt and I didn’t adapt, but for me I do love a crowd and my family being there so for me it was a struggle and I did miss them being there. It’s going to take a while for the emotions to sink in so I’ll probably take a bit of time out and work out what happens next.”
There was, at least some comfort in the closeness of her fellow team members, including close friend Bianca Walkden who will compete in her category on Tuesday: “Bianca’s been amazing and seeing her up in the crowd crying, I think she’s as hurt as me. I’ll just try to tell her my mistakes to Bianca so she doesn’t make them, now it’s all for her to go after that gold medal that she deserves.”