Frustrated Bianca Walkden forced to settle for taekwondo bronze

Great Britain’s Bianca Walkden said she felt “a little bit robbed” of the chance to win a silver or gold medal in taekwondo at the Olympics, saying it was “soul-crushing” to have to fight for third place.

Walkden overcame the agony of her last-second defeat in the Olympic semi-final to take bronze in the women’s +67kg category with a 7-3 victory over Poland’s Aleksandra Kowalczuk on the final day of the competition. Speaking after the fight, the 29-year-old told the BBC she believed her semi-final opponent, South Korea’s Lee Da-bin, should have been penalised for a grab before she landed her winning crescent kick in the last seconds of the fight.

“I gave my soul before, I think I got a little bit robbed,” said a tearful Walkden. “I think it was a little bit iffy on the referee. At the end … I got grabbed and crescented but she didn’t get a gam-jeom [penalty] put in.”

She added: “It’s no excuse. I was lucky to bring it back so well … I had to come out and fight for the bronze again and it was soul crushing. I just wanted to come out and be the champion I think I am. I just hope that the kids watching me can realise it’s not about the colour, it’s about giving your heart and soul and then being able to come out with your head held high.”

Suggesting that she will aim to come back for the 2024 Games in Paris, Walkden said: “I give my soul today and maybe one day, I can get a gold. Right now I’ve come [home with] another bronze.”

Liverpool-born Walkden burst into tears after beating Kowalczuk in Tokyo’s Makuhari Messe Hall. The three-times world champion looked calm throughout, despite landing only four punches in the opening two rounds to give her a narrow lead going into the final third. Once Walkden landed a trunk shot in the third, doubling her advantage, her path to Olympic bronze never seemed in doubt.

Despite shock exits and last second defeats, Team GB have ended the competition with three taekwondo medals, with Walkden’s bronze adding to silvers won by Bradly Sinden in the men’s under-68kg and Lauren Williams in the under-67kg division.

In Rio, GB Taekwondo won a record medal haul, with Walkden taking bronze, fighter-turned-pundit Lutalo Muhammad taking silver and Jade Jones winning gold. But UK Sport confirmed to the Guardian that the lack of gold medals would not affect the sport’s funding for Paris 2024, with funds already allocated in advance of the delayed 2020 Games.

For GB Taekwondo these games have been as much about fortitude in the face of disappointment as basking in victory. Double Olympic champion Jones arrived in Japan hoping to become the first taekwondo athlete to win a third gold medal, but shocked her legion of fans after losing her last-16 contest to the Refugee Team competitor Kimia Alizadeh.

And there were agonising last-second defeats to push past before the medals that were taken could be enjoyed, with 22-year-old Sinden edged out for gold with only eight seconds of his fight against Ulugbev Rashitov remaining. Williams, 22 years old and from Blackwood in south Wales, won silver for Britain but with 10 seconds left had a three-point lead against Croatia’s Matea Jelic.

Matt Archibald, chief executive of GB Taekwondo, told the Guardian the medal haul was “bittersweet”. He added: “It’s a special thing to win an Olympic medal, we’re absolutely delighted to come away with three out of the five in the team with Olympic success. We leave with a little bit of a little bit of disappointment in some areas, but it’s been a great campaign, a tough campaign, and we’re delighted with the athletes and what they’ve achieved out there in Tokyo.”

The sport has seen a burst in popularity, said Archibald, helped by the dramatic “penalty shootout” nature of the fight finishes and because it was one of the first events to be featured. It also had another secret weapon: Muhammad, who has earned praise as a BBC pundit across the board, having narrowly missed qualification for Tokyo.

“He is brilliant and wonderful, thoughtful speaker,” said Archibald. “Hopefully, he’ll retire when the time is right to the commentary couch. But we certainly don’t want him to retire just yet, because he’s got plenty of unfinished business to do on the mat.”

Despite the lack of golds, Muhammad said British taekwondo had been left in a healthy condition. “We have a magnificent development programme where we’ve got some young athletes, coming through,” he said. “I think it’s been a very positive and successful Olympics for GB Taekwondo, no gold medals, however, two finals and a bronze. That’s pretty good.”

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