JADE JONES battling to a thrilling gold medal at London 2012 first started Lauren Williams’ unexpected taekwondo education.

Blackwood ace Williams and two-time Olympic champion Jones, from Bodelwyddan, were this week officially selected for Tokyo 2020 in a five-pronged taekwondo team alongside Bianca Walkden, Bradly Sinden and Mahama Cho.

Precocious Williams, 22, first started out as a kickboxer in South Wales but has vivid memories of watching Jones, 28, topple China’s Hou Yuzhuo 6-4 in a heart-thumping final from her family caravan on holiday.

That experience first got the taekwondo fires burning and Williams, who soared to 67kg Grand Slam and Grand Prix glory in 2018, is hellbent on following in her compatriot’s storied Games footsteps.

Williams, one of over 1,000 athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, said: “Before I did taekwondo I was a kickboxer – and I did that for ten years.

“When I went on holiday with my parents in a caravan, we sat and watched the Olympics on TV. Jade was winning in the final at the time with about ten seconds left – the points were getting higher and higher and it was getting really exciting.

“My dad turned to me and said: ‘is this something you’d want to do?’ I’d never seen the sport before – I was a kickboxer and didn’t really know what taekwondo was.

“I actually said no at the time, but taekwondo did a Fighting Chance scheme back in 2013 that encouraged athletes for different sports and backgrounds to come and try taekwondo.

“I tried it, gave it a go, my dad let me do my thing and I managed to beat the girls in front of me. My performance director saw talent and here I am today – I got selected and never looked back.”

Williams’ searing career on the mat has been powered by UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme that allows her to train full-time, access the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.

She used that funding to thrilling effect in 2017 and 2018 as she racked up medal after medal to catapult herself into Tokyo contention.

Williams, who lives and trains in Manchester, scooped Grand Prix gold, silver and bronze medals before winning the Grand Slam in Wuxi in her 67kg category.

Those results opened the door to Japan and after overcoming an injury scare in lockdown, Williams’ seat on the plane was secure.

It all started after watching Jones in 2012 and Williams, who only turned 22 four months ago, is already on a mission to inspire the next generation of talent.

Williams, who will be bidding to add to the 864 Olympic and Paralympic medals won by Great Britain and Northern Ireland athletes since the advent of National Lottery funding in 1997 in Tokyo, added: “I go back to my hometown quite frequently and see a lot of kids and youngsters that I used to teach look up to me.

“There are a generation of youngsters who aspire to be in this position – and it always reminds me of that 12-year-old me in the caravan looking up to Jade.

“I don’t realise that there are other youngsters in that position looking up to me now, and it’s really nice.

“To come back from the Games with a medal would be indescribable and make my whole family proud.”

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