Following her silver medal performance in taekwondo at the Olympics, Lauren Williams reflected on her history of injuries.
L. Williams Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
In the Makuhari Hall in Tokyo, Lauren Williams came within ten agonising seconds of winning Olympic taekwondo gold despite suffering a series of “laughable” injuries.
Blackwood’s 22-year-old Matea Jelic, the world No. 1 and a Croatian, came back for a 25-22 win in the final game, denying Williams the win but leaving her to reflect on a fantastic performance in light of her recent hardships.
Williams, who has dealt with an ankle injury for much of the season and disclosed she tore a hamstring just three weeks before travelling to the Japanese capital, said, “My injury history is almost funny actually.”
“It just so happens to be the leg that I come out and fight with,” Williams shrugged. My entire life has been a series of injuries, but I’ve learned to embrace the challenge. I am not frightened or intimidated by wounds. All they do is spur me on to keep looking for ways to better myself.
Williams had pulled ahead in the fight with a pair of two-point trunk kicks midway through the final round, but Jelic tied the score with a three-point head-kick with nine seconds left and then finished it off with a body shot to claim victory.
“I’m Extremely Gutted,” Williams Continued.
Even though I was aware of my impending victory, I failed to see that only ten seconds remained. It’s time for me to admit that I blundered and make amends for my error.
“It took me right back to the World Championships in 2017 when I made the same mistake. It’s a mental block I need to overcome, and the fact that I made the error on the biggest platform of my career is a blow in and of itself; I can only hope that it won’t happen again.
Williams had arrived in Tokyo as one of the lesser-known members of the British taekwondo team, despite having won two European titles. This was in part due to a persistent ankle injury that had threatened to derail her Olympic hopes.
Originating from the same Blackwood kickboxing club as reigning world boxing champion Lauren Price, who is also in Tokyo competing in the women’s middleweight category, she was convinced to switch to taekwondo after witnessing Jade Jones win her first gold in London in 2012, and eventually earned a spot at the sport’s elite academy in Manchester through its ‘Fighting Chance’ programme.
Williams persuaded her parents to spend a year with her in a caravan on the outskirts of Manchester so that she could train there, despite the fact that she was still too young to move north on her own.
Williams went on to win those European titles, but she has been plagued by injuries her whole career. This has contributed to her reputation as a talented but inconsistent performer, which was on full display in the three matches that took her to the Olympic final.
Williams started out by dominating Tonga’s Malia Paseka, who left the Makuhari Hall in tears and bruises after only 71 seconds of competition.
Hedaya Wahba, a bronze medalist from Rio in the lighter -57kg division, almost made her seem bad as she raced to a 12-3 lead at the end of the second round. However, two consecutive body kicks by the Egyptian brought her back to within a single point, and she had to fight hard to save her advantage.
Williams almost made it through, winning 13-12 to go to the Semi-Finals and face fellow Rio Bronze Medalist Ruth Gbagbi of the Ivory Coast.
Williams jumped out to an early 18-3 lead after a pair of early three-point head kicks, and she never seemed like giving up that lead, even after the African cut it to six in the final seconds.
Williams was unable to overcome Jelic, who posed an even greater test, and she lost in a match that was virtually identical to the one that had cost Bradly Sinden the men’s gold the night before.
Williams continued, “When I was that girl in 2012 watching the TV, I never believed I’d be there alongside some of the top girls in the world.”
I gave up a lot, and it was tough, and I missed out on a lot of what a normal adolescent should be experiencing. It’s been challenging, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It may be the wrong colour, but at age 22 I finally reached my goal of standing atop the Olympic podium.