A total of 19 Olympic hopefuls haven taken the first steps on the road to Rio 2016 after becoming full-time members of the GB Taekwondo World Class Performance Programme in Manchester.
The arrivals include 15 who have earned their place via the Fighting Chance: Battle4Brazil initiative; a nationwide search for high achieving martial artists with potential to transfer to Olympic WTF Taekwondo.
More than 500 athletes initially applied for the scheme run in conjunction with UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport. After a six-month selection process five players have transferred from non-Olympic ITF Taekwondo with another 10, including 14-year-old Welsh prospect, Lauren Williams, drawn from a kick boxing background.
The remaining four, including recently crowned European Junior champion, Georgia Barnes and Asia Bailey, a World Junior Championship bronze medalist in 2012, have progressed through the GB Taekwondo Talent Development Pathway.
"The quantity and the quality that has emerged this time we are really pleased with," said GB Performance Director, Gary Hall.
"With an opportunity for GB Taekwondo to compete for a maximum of eight medals at the 2016 Olympic Games there is a real need for us to strengthen the ‘athlete pool’ within each Olympic weight category.
"One of the key ingredients our programme has been missing is that depth. Maybe in the past if we lost someone to injury, we lost a chance of a medal.
"Now we will have a chance to prepare three or four athletes in one category and that will improve our competitiveness on the world stage and that can only have a positive impact. It's been a tough journey to get here for these guys; they have certainly earned it. But now the hard work starts."
Head of Performance Pathways at UK Sport Natalie Dunman said: “We’re delighted that Fighting Chance: Battle4Brazil, one of UK Sport’s first athlete talent identification projects in this Olympic cycle, proved to be so successful in identifying 15 athletes for the GB Academy. This group of athletes, from a variety of martial arts backgrounds, have shown great potential for senior international success in WTF Taekwondo and it will be exciting to see how they develop over the coming months.
“They have a challenging pathway ahead and we wish them the very best as they begin their journey on the road to Rio in earnest.”
Hall has also been heartened by the progress shown by WTF taekwondo trained athletes. "Ben Haines (from the BTS Club, Southampton) is already winning medals at Open championships and local lad Dominic Brookes (Manchester Aces) has been around the National Championships for a few years and also competed at the Europeans in Manchester last year," he said.
"Because of University studies he hasn't been able to focus his full attention on taekwondo but now he can do. Georgia (also BTS) and Asia (Central Taekwondo)have made really quick progress and they have been inspired by what happened in London-as all the Fighting Chance guys have- and they want a shot at trying to qualify for Rio and try to win a gold medal."
A total of 32 athletes now train at the GB Taekwondo Academy in Manchester with the newcomers rubbing shoulders with Olympic gold medalist, Jade Jones, and London 2012 bronze medallist, Lutalo Muhammad. Muhammad and 2013 Trelleborg Open champion, Damon Sansum, are the highest profile graduates of the inaugural Fighting Chance programme introduced in 2009.
"There is a lot of competition now but I see it as a positive," says 2012 European champion Muhammad. "As someone who came through the last Talent ID programme, I know it works and produces successful athletes.
"So, I am excited to work with these guys. They are going to bring something new to the table and after all variety is the spice of life.
"Damon and I have already spoken to some of them, told them about our experiences and passed on bits of advice. We will guide them best we can because it is a friendly environment for them to come into."
Established stars such as Muhammad, Jones, former World medalists, Michael Stamper and Michael Harvey, plus multi Open winner, Bianca Walkden, are very much in contention for the inaugural World Grand Prix taking place in Manchester from December 13-15. However, with a number of wild card invites available, it's just possible some of the newcomers could secure their own place in this major new tournament that carries significant ranking points towards Rio 2016 qualification.
Fighting Chance and GB Taekwondo Talent Pathway Development athletes:
- Asia Bailey, 15, Larbert, Scotland (WTF Taekwondo
- Georgia Barnes, 17, Southampton (WTF Taekwondo)
- Rachelle Booth, 21, Wigan (ITF Taekwondo)
- Dominic Brookes, 24, Manchester (WTF Taekwondo)
- Darren Chapman, 23, Northampton (Kick boxing)
- Danny Dowling, 21, Exeter (Kick boxing)
- Ben Haines, 19, Southampton (WTF Taekwondo)
- Nicole Huntington, 16, Ipswich (Kick boxing)
- India Isles, 20, Perth (ITF Taekwondo)
- Murdo Mackenzie, 22, Inverness (Kick boxing)
- Charlie Maddock, 17, Stoke on Trent (Kick boxing)
- Sarah McMahon, 18, Stirling (ITF Taekwondo)
- Christian McNeish, 16, Plaistow, London (Kick boxing)
- Rachel Morning, 20, Glasgow (ITF Taekwondo)
- Taylor Shaw, 18, Woking (Kick boxing)
- Tom Smith, 19, Whitstable, Kent (Kick boxing)
- Tony Stephenson, 21, Burry, County Cork, Ireland (Kick boxing)
- Lyle Walker, 18, ITF Taekwondo Carluke, Scotland (ITF Taekwondo)
- Lauren Williams, 14, Newport, Gwent (Kick boxing)
Find out more about GB Taekwondo on their website.