Jade Jones interview: ‘Anything less than Olympic gold is a failure to me’
As a lifelong Manchester United fan, taekwondo fighter Jade Jones could not help but be drawn into the main talking point of the past week: football’s European Super League.
“What makes sport fun is the fact that the underdog can win,” Jones said, shortly before the “Big Six” clubs, facing a rush of vitriol, turned their back on the breakaway competition. Preserving the spirit of the underdog was a theme embedded throughout the uproar, but there is a hint of irony hearing the point come from Jones, the two-time Olympic champion and taekwondo’s poster girl, who has dominated the women’s 57kg category for more than a decade, barely giving others a look in.
“They are always coming for me, though,” she argued. Such a refusal to underestimate her rivals, at any moment, was on full display earlier this month when Jones completed a hat-trick of European titles in Bulgaria. If her rivals thought they could sniff out any complacency, perhaps fostered by the pandemic-enforced global shutdown of sport, then she emphatically showed them otherwise, three months out from the rearranged Olympics.
The 28-year-old amassed 114 points for the loss of just 21 in three fights en route to the final, before taking gold with a resounding 20-5 win over Turkey’s Hatice Kubra Ilgun. “To come out on top gives me that confidence that I’m doing the right things, I’m in the right place and things are looking good for the Olympics,” she said.
If the pressure was not already big enough for the double reigning champion heading into Tokyo, then she can thank organisers for raising the stakes further. Traditionally taekwondo is scheduled towards the end of the Games, but in Japan the sport will start on the first Saturday, with Jones starting her campaign for gold the following day.
Not only could she therefore be one of Team GB’s first medallists but it would also put her in pole position, ahead of dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin, rower Helen Glover and cyclist Laura Kenny (all selection dependent) to become the first British female athlete to win Olympic titles at three consecutive Games. “I’ve always made history,” said Jones, alluding to her being Britain’s first gold medallist at the inaugural Summer Youth Olympics in 2010, Britain’s first taekwondo Olympic gold medallist in 2012 and the only taekwondo fighter, male or female, to retain an Olympic title at Rio 2016. “It’s kind of fate that I could be the first one [to win three golds in a row].”
Jones is not afraid of hard work, nor is she afraid of her opponents. She has also not shied away from asking herself whether she might be “the chosen one” for three golds in a row, but she is determined that the pursuit of history does not become overbearing.
“This history I have. And all these Olympics. I’m in this position where I could actually be the chosen one and get the third,” she said. “I know I can do it, I think that’s what’s hard. As anything less than gold is a failure to me. I’ll be heartbroken with silver. “My best chance of performing is focusing on my plan, my tactics and just cutting off all that noise around me. I’ve constantly had to adapt and change my fighting style. Not thinking I’m the best.”
The disruption brought about by the pandemic has been another hurdle to overcome for this self-confessed “control freak”. “I see my body as a machine,” said Jones, who has partnered with leading supplement brand Bioglan in the run up to the rearrange Olympics, supporting their free ‘Bioglan Pit Stop’ health consultation campaign. “So I’ve looked at different ways of keeping it healthy and strong, on the inside as well as the outside. In this pandemic, everyone is seeing that health is wealth now.”
What was harder to adapt to, however, was accepting that her family, who have been in the crowd for each Olympics, would be staying at home. “I’m just thinking of coming running through the door with that gold medal and it just gives me that extra motivation to bring it home for them,” said the Welsh native.
One person who should be with her in Tokyo is team-mate, house-mate and all-round best-mate Bianca Walkden, who will be chasing gold in the +73kg category to complete the full set of major titles. The pair, along with their boyfriends, hunkered down together at home when the first lockdown set in, “battering each other in the garage” and then spending the nights “playing board games, Fifa and anything else competitive”.
“It was tough mentally, like it was for everybody. Life just stopped,” said Jones. “It was quite fun for the first few weeks until we started getting on each other’s nerves. We were doing couples tournaments on Fifa, me as Manchester United and [Liverpudlian] Bianca as Liverpool. We would be rowing at each other.”
Things got so bad that Walkden even ended up with a black eye, on account of them both trying to grab the object at the centre of the card game at the same time. But judging by Jones’s laugh and smile, the competition was never anything that was really going to break their relationship. That partnership, like the two of them as fighters, is made of sterner stuff.
“We don’t think we would have survived this long, over this many years, doing the sport, if we didn’t have each other,” Jones said. “Being an athlete is an emotional roller coaster. You literally have to give everything to the sport. To have one of my best friends on the journey together, it makes it special. It would be amazing if I get my third gold and she gets her gold as well.”
Olympian Jade Jones has partnered with leading supplement brand Bioglan to launch the Bioglan Pit Stops – free, virtual health consultations with a leading wellness expert to help you ‘fine tune’ your health. To book a virtual Pit Stop and receive a free supplement from the extensive Bioglan range, tailored to your needs, go here: https://bioglan.co.uk/ bioglan-pitstop/