Bianca Walkden watched her best friend and and housemate Jade Jones shatter her World Championship hoodoo in Manchester two years ago and hopes the memory will spur her on to seal her own complete set of major taekwondo titles.
Double Olympic champion Jones had repeatedly come up short in her quest for the world crown prior to her success in Manchester and for Walkden, who had to settle for bronze in Rio in 2016, the situation is almost exactly the reverse.
Despite proving utterly dominant in the women’s +73kg category, claiming three consecutive world titles and a third European gold in Sofia on Sunday, Walkden only has eyes for the one major medal that has got away.
Walkden told the PA news agency: “Ever since Jade finally won her world title in Manchester we’ve been talking about how it means we’re so close to both of us having the full set.
“I watched Jade win after all the setbacks she had had and it really made me feel like I can go on to win the Olympics and establish that kind of legacy together. There is no doubt I can take confidence from that.”
Walkden had been a big favourite heading to Rio but after beating defending champion Milica Mandic of Serbia, she was beaten on a golden point by China’s Zheng Shuyin before rallying to win her bronze medal match.
By way of proving she had shrugged off the disappointment, Walkden eased to her second world crown the following year and made it a treble in Manchester in 2019 with a revenge win over Zheng, albeit via a controversial disqualification.
Walkden said: “It’s great to win another European title but it’s not life or death for me – the Olympics is the one major title I am yet to win and that is what truly matters for me.
“I’ve put quite a lot of pressure on myself throughout my career so I don’t mind saying I don’t want anything less than gold.
“When it comes to the Olympics, the biggest difference is in those people who don’t break under the pressure and are able to stand there and face the mental as well as the physical side of it all.”
Although her results may suggest otherwise, Walkden admitted she found it hard to shrug off the relative disappointment of Rio while Jones cruised to her second consecutive crown.
Walkden, who spent much of the first lockdown training in her hastily-converted garage with Jones, added: “You always learn from your losses but Rio was hard for me because it was just one mistake in sudden death that cost me.
“It just shows how important it is not to get into those kinds of situations, to be even more disciplined and in the right mindset, because that tiny moment can cost you so much in your career.”