By Ian Gordon
Taekwondo has been one of the great success stories of Welsh sport in recent years thanks to Jade Jones sensationally winning Olympic gold in London 2012, then retaining the title at Rio 2016.
Now, another Wales star is set to join the Flint fighter on the global stage when Lauren Williams bids to be crowned World Champion in the -67Kg category in Manchester this week.
While Jones will be aiming to claim the one major medal missing from her collection, Williams will be battling to make it double gold for GB Taekwondo and underline her status as a major contender for the Tokyo Olympics next year.
Then, Wales will have two athletes going for Games glory with Jones also looking for an historic hat-trick of titles. First, though, it’s the worlds at Manchester Arena (May 15-19) where both start favourite.
Jones, 25, starts her competition today, Friday May 17. Williams goes a day later and both have plenty riding on the outcome.
Still only 20, Blackwood’s Williams already has two world junior titles and two European crowns to her name. Last December she became only the second Brit after training partner Bianca Walkden to pocket £54,000 for winning the World Grand Slam in China.
It is previously undreamed of prize money for a sport where financial rewards are not the priority. And, for Williams, if offered the chance to repay her parents for the sacrifices they made earlier in her career.
Having been inspired by watching her countrywoman win in London 2012 while on a caravan holiday, Williams took the decision to switch from kick-boxing – where she had had huge success – to taekwondo.
But being under the age of 16, she was too young to move into the academy housing in Manchester close to GB Taekwondo’s training base.
That’s when the family took the decision to temporarily split so Williams could pursue her dream.
“My Mum moved up here to Manchester and we lived in a caravan for 18 months while my Dad and my sister stayed in Wales,” said Williams.
“She travelled 150 miles a day taking me back and forth to training and when I was 16 I moved into academy housing.
“It’s gone from there. I have got a lot to make up for as they have done a lot for me but hopefully, an Olympic medal will do that.”
Williams, who vowed to help pay off her parent’s mortgage after her Grand Slam victory, added: “I didn’t know about taekwondo until I watched it.
“I was on holiday in a little touring caravan in the south of England and the London Olympics came on. We didn’t know anything about it and we only watched it as we saw a GB athlete. At the time I did kick-boxing.
“It looked similar as it was another martial art then Jade started getting these points and it was getting the audience involved and it got me involved.
“I was screaming for her and she won. My Dad looked at me and said if it was something I wanted to do.
At the time I was ‘what are you talking about’.”
Williams now trains alongside her inspiration in Manchester where they both won the World Grand Prix title on homie soil last year.
Having followed up that victory with the Grand Slam triumph in Wuxi, China, this year she added the President’s Cup title in Turkey and will be the one to beat when she launches her bid on Saturday, May 18th.
Jones will be in action in the -57kg category 24 hours earlier in the opening rounds with the finals in all categories being held the following day.
The 26-year-old, nicknamed ‘The Headhunter’, admits it would fulfil a dream to finally win the title having taken silver in 2011 and bronze when the World Championships were last held two years ago in Muju, South Korea.
“I’ve never won the World Championships and I want to become the first to win world, Olympic and European gold medals,” said Jones, who is also a two-time European champion.
“All my friends and family are going to be there so there will never be a better time to get that gold medal. Then I can look at Tokyo.”
Having missed out on the £54,000 on offer in Wuxi, Jones showed she is in top form ahead of the worlds with victory at the Sofia Open in Bulgaria in April.