World titles, ACLs and one eye on Tokyo: Bianca Walkden reflects on career to date as Manchester beckons

Describe Bianca Walkden as 'obsessed' and the double world champion, double European champion and Rio 2016 Olympic medallist would not take offence.

After all, for a taekwondo player who has built a career on hard work first and talent second, obsessive becomes a rather complimentary trademark for her career.

With two more medals this year and less than two years to go until she targets gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Walkden is far from done yet.

After a record-breaking 2017 – which saw her become the first Brit to defend a world title, the first fighter to ever win all four Grand Prix events in a year and the maiden Grand Slam winner – confidence is undoubtedly at its highest.

Now comes the time for Liverpool’s finest to do the business in front of her own fans as the Manchester Grand Prix kicks into action this weekend.

But the 27-year-old knows it’s not her natural talent that will help harbour future ambitions on the mat – instead it’s her unwavering and unfaultable winning mentality.

“In my own honest opinion, I don’t think I was very talented as a kid but I think I had something inside me that was obsessed and that wouldn’t give up,” she said.

“I’ve always been a persistent person and taekwondo gave me the opportunity to get to the next step, improve and ultimately win something.

“I think it was my mentality, rather than my physical attributes, that has got me this far as I wasn’t great at kicking but look at me now.

“Of course, now I love taekwondo as a sport and I love to fight – although perhaps that’s the Scouser in me.

“Ultimately, I love winning more than anything and I realise I’m not going to last forever, so I want to win that gold and leave a legacy in this sport.”

Hard work may not be a unique attitude but Walkden’s desire for the top has encountered more obstacles than most.

Thwarted with two anterior cruciate ligament injuries in the run up to her eventual success at the 2015 World Championships, just taking to the mat was an achievement in itself.

But, Walkden being Walkden, all that made her more determined than ever.

Her win in 2015 was heralded as miraculous by those looking on from a far given her extraordinary comeback from injury, but the Liverpudlian conceded that she would always remember the day with mixed emotions.

“It was a real low point of my life and made even worse by the fact that it was my second major injury in the space of six years having injured myself prior to the 2012 Olympics during qualification in 2011,” she added.

“I didn’t really know what an ACL reconstruction was the first time round in 2011 as I was still very young.

“Yet, having had the same injury previously, I knew exactly what to expect this time round and I wouldn’t let it stop me.

“When I won that first time you could see it on my face that I just couldn’t believe it and the thought of being world champion was simply overwhelming. “Unbeknown to me at the time, my Granddad had passed away the very same day which lead me to remember it as a bitter sweet moment as so many emotions hit me in such a short space of time.

“I obviously knew of his health situation throughout so I was always going to do it for him no matter what and I hope I did him proud.”

Following up her 2015 success with another win in 2017, Walkden’s immediate test comes a lot closer to home with this weekend’s Grand Prix taking place in Manchester merely minutes from the state-of-the-art National Taekwondo Centre.

Knowing full well a plethora of local kids could be onlookers, the two time World Champion suggested that the responsibility to encourage young people to try the sport was something she took very seriously.

She added: “I think the overall success of the team has put us on the map and brought more people in which is credit to everyone involved here.

“Obviously I love performing locally and seeing family and friends all attend and it’s just a great atmosphere.

“It’s particularly special when you hear about young girls in particular who take up the sport because of what say me and Jade (Jones) have done.

“If I inspire just one person to take it up than I’ve done my job.” Sportsbeat 2018