How Jade and the chimp turned tears into gold

actionwoman-2016In the final article in The Mixed Zone’s series championing each of the 10 contenders for the BT Sports Action Woman of the Year Award 2016, Liz Byrnes talks to double Olympic taekwondo winner Jade Jones. Previous articles are available to read by clicking HERE.

The winner of the prestigious annual award, from a stellar list of sporting achievements by British female athletes in 2016, will be announced during the Action Woman of the Year Awards Show, presented by Clare Balding, on BT Sport 1 on Monday, December 12.

The winner will be decided by the public – and you have until the closing date of next Monday, December 5, to cast your vote. For details, along with the full list of nominations, CLICK HERE

magazine_cover_jones_v2When Jade Jones retained her Olympic taekwondo title on the evening of Thursday, August 18, 2016, it prompted a lap of honour around the Carioca Arena in Rio de Janeiro. Jones’s beaming smile lit up the arena as she set off, a Union flag in one hand and a Welsh flag in the other.

Victory had been hard-earned for the 23-year-old from Flint. She had to endure four fights that day, culminating in a 16-7 win over Spain’s Eva Calvo Gomez. Not only did she have to overcome her opponents, Jones also had to battle the nerves brought on by the expectation that comes with being defending champion. It threatened to overcome her, and triggered tears between rounds. So much so that her younger brother Luke texted after the first two fights to urge her to relax.

She told The Mixed Zone: “For London I was just a 19-year-old kid who no one really expected to do anything. I knew I could win myself, so it was only my own type of pressure, and it just felt I was against the odds. I just did amazing, smashed it and then it was this amazing, crazy feeling like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m Olympic champion’.

“This time it was a completely different thing. Everyone was expecting me to win and there was just so much pressure on me. It was really hard to deal with. I remember my semi-final was when I really thought, ‘Wow, this is a lot of pressure’. Once I won, it was just more relief than anything. I was thinking, ‘Thank God, I pulled it off, I did it’.”

Relief soon turned into determination to retrace her steps from 2012 and reach the top of the podium again. “When I secured another final it was a little bit of pressure off. It’s like, ‘Thank God, I haven’t completely flopped’,” she said. “I’d done something special, but literally five minutes after that feeling went I was like, ‘I am here for gold, that’s all I am here for’. The pressure piled back on again.”

With all four fights taking place on the same day, it was mentally draining. The time between each bout was spent napping, eating, psychology work, watching her opponent and a 45-minute warm-up. But the time goes quickly and she started the final on fire. She opened up a 6-0 lead after the first round before admitting she took her foot off the gas. Her opponent took full advantage to pull it back to 7-6.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is it, this is the last two minutes’, and I just attacked her for the whole two minutes, I thought, ‘I’m not giving nothing away, no matter how many points I am up, I am going to keep going’.”

Jones has worked with a sports psychologist since joining the GB Taekwondo Academy in Manchester in 2010. She has applied a mind-management programme known as the Chimp Model which is designed to help people overcome pressure and anxiety.

“As I have got older I have got better at the model,” she says. “But sometimes if you are in a panic zone you just go a bit wild, you’re not thinking, you are not in the right place and you can’t perform as well as you can. So it’s about controlling your thoughts and your emotions and being in an automatic zone where you are not panicking. Your body is just doing what it has trained to do for all those years. If you think too much – even though it’s better than being emotional – thinking slows you down, whereas if it’s happening automatically, it’s so much faster. It’s just like second nature.”

Next up is the World Grand Prix Final in Baku, Azerbaijan, on December 9 and 10 when Jones will look to finish 2016 unbeaten. Next year it is the World Championships.

Jones has come a very long way since she was taken to a taekwondo class by her grandfather as an eight-year-old. She says she was mesmerised by the “flashy kicks and spins”. Further ahead, her sights are already set on the Tokyo Olympics. She says: “No one in taekwondo has achieved three Olympic golds, so it would be amazing to make history and be the first.”

For Jones, 2016 was a year when she battled and overcame everything and everyone put in front of her. She faced up to her fears and anxieties and emerged victorious. Strength, resilience, embracing whatever would help achieve her goals. And all with an openness that underlined the fierce determination that is an essential component of a winner. A winner who knows that in 2020 history beckons.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

After an early career in PR and marketing, Liz Byrnes changed her focus to what she had always really wanted and re-trained as a journalist in Sheffield. She spent 12 years at PA where she covered football, athletics and swimming before going freelance in January 2014. She now works for a number of organisations including The Guardian, BBC, Sheffield Star, Wardles, SwimVortex, AFP and Arena. Liz’s latest articles

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