Monday, November 29

Lutalo Muhammad: ‘I thought people were excited to see taekwondo’ | Tokyo 2020 Olympics

TIts Olympics have seen the rise of new British stars, from the likes of Tom Dean and Duncan Scott in the pool to Tom Pidcock and Georgia Taylor-Brown on bikes. But one of those who has shone the most is someone who has not really competed.

This was not how Lutalo Muhammad originally planned, with a third taekwondo medal in a third consecutive Olympiad firmly in the 30-year-old’s sights before he was injured during qualifying. It was a huge blow, but Muhammad decided to dust himself off and accept the BBC’s offer to be an expert in their coverage of the four days of taekwondo, working out of the Olympic studio in Salford. It was a step into the unknown, but it was worth it given Muhammad’s performance. It was a revelation, most clearly seen in the online reaction to his scholarship. Twitter, it’s fair to say, blew up.

“It has been wonderful,” says Muhammad, reflecting on the hundreds of positive messages he has received from the public, as well as from names known as Johanna konta Y Gabby logan. “When starting out, my goal was to represent my sport and help people understand it. Seeing the reaction to my experience, both in person and on social media, has been enormously flattering.

“It was towards the end of the first day that I began to notice that I was receiving a significant amount of attention. At first I thought it was just a reaction to people’s excitement at seeing taekwondo at the Olympics for the first time in five years, but as it progressed, I began to realize that this was a bit unusual. “

That was undoubtedly partly due to the passionate nature of Team GB’s taekwondo performances, from Jade Jones’s shocking loss to refugee Kimia Alizadeh to the close yet so far nature of the medals for Bradly Sinden, Lauren Williams. and Bianca Walkden. , it became an unmissable television. However, it says a lot about how Muhammad covered the competitions that were talked about almost as much as the competitors.

Certainly there was no desire on Muhammad’s part to share the spotlight with people he considers friends as much as teammates, and in the case of Sinden, a former roommate, but that’s what happens when he you hand over the complete package to the experts. And the boy from Walthamstow did just that, effortlessly mixing humor and passion (the latter most vividly on display when he left the studio after watching Walkden lose his semi-final under agonizing circumstances) with explanations of the nuances and rules of taekwondo, which they seemed to be the aspect of Muhammad’s scholarship that most onlookers admired.

Lutalo Muhammad won his match for the bronze medal in the men's -80 kg taekwondo competition in London 2012
Lutalo Muhammad won his match for the bronze medal in the men’s -80 kg taekwondo competition in London 2012. Photograph: Ian Langsdon / EPA

“I was really doing my best to answer the questions that people like Clare asked me. [Balding] and Alex [Scott], “he says.” I think what most people appreciated was that I did it in a quick and concise way. “

Muhammad also displayed a wonderful use of language, with his best line when he reflected on Jones’ loss to Alizadeh and the 28-year-old’s admission that fear had finally overtaken her. “Fear is a fire,” Muhammad said. “It can be used forever, to cook food or heat your home, or it can spiral out of control and burn down your house. Sadly, that’s what happened to Jade. “

Reflecting on that comment a few days later, Muhammad is filled with admiration for the honesty displayed by Jones, who was seeking to become the first British woman to win gold medals in three consecutive Olympics. “It was incredibly brave of her, as a double Olympic champion, to admit her vulnerability in that way,” she says.

“That has been a theme of these Olympics … one of the reasons we love it so much is because it gives us the opportunity to see incredible athletes in action, but what we are seeing now is a trend, from people like Jade, Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, from incredible athletes who are not afraid to admit that they are human and suffer from the same mental health and well-being problems as all of us. That’s very inspiring. “

Muhammad’s focus now is on reaching the 2024 Games in Paris and adding to the bronze and silver medals he won at London 2012 and Rio 2016 respectively. That means resuming training at Team GB’s taekwondo center in Manchester, which he will do after a season helping his father, Wayne, at the taekwondo club he runs in Hackney, east London.

“My father was my first coach and the reason I wanted to be an Olympic athlete in the first place,” says Muhammad. “I remember watching the 2000 Games on TV and he leaned in and said, ‘You could do that one day, represent your country in the Olympics.’ That’s where it all started and 12 years later, in London, I fulfilled my dream ”.

The dream lives on, but Muhammad has also been stung by the error of the experts. Contrary to reports, the BBC has not approached him to continue working for the broadcaster during these Olympics, but, if the call comes through, a positive response would be available.

“I am a fan of all combat sports, so I would definitely be interested in doing boxing related things,” says Muhammad. “But if my time as an expert has come to an end, at these Olympics and beyond, that’s fine. I enjoyed it immensely and am more than happy to get back to my daily work of kicking people. “

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