Irish taekwondo athlete reveals broken heart and family pain after Olympics defeat

·3-min read
Tokyo , Japan - 24 July 2021; Jack Woolley of Ireland, reacts after defeat to Lucas Lautaro Guzman of Argentina during the men's -58Kg taekwondo round of 16 at the Makuhari Messe Hall during the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Jack Woolley reacts after defeat to Lucas Lautaro Guzman of Argentina. (Getty Images)

There is simply no hiding place when it comes to the Olympic Games. 

As a relatively unknown Irish taekwondo athlete, Jack Woolley was just two points away from qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Five years on in Tokyo, and believing he was now one of the favourites for gold, the 2019 world bronze medallist was ousted by Argentinian Lucas Guzman.

Once more it was a two-point losing margin, the agony intensified by losing with three seconds left.

With athletes required to go past the "mixed zone" after their matches to speak to the media, Woolley then delayed his walk to compose himself. He wasn’t required to talk to the waiting microphones but he did so anyway.

Tokyo , Japan - 24 July 2021; Jack Woolley of Ireland reacts after defeat to Lucas Lautaro Guzman of Argentina in the men's -58Kg taekwondo round of 16 at the Makuhari Messe Hall during the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Jack Woolley after his defeat. (Getty Images)

And then the floodgates opened – no less than three times in interviews while talking of his ultimately failed bid for gold in the men's -58kg event in Tokyo.

For he had every reason to be emotional after revealing his sacrifices to reach the biggest stage in his sport.

“My biggest one was, I was at a competition in Poland and my nana died when I was there. I missed that. I flew home for a day and I had a grand prix to go to, I missed the funeral.

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“I put my life on hold, I missed so many important things. I don’t really have much of a social life, I have to put everything on hold. I was training, training, training.”

After months of waiting for the Games to be officially given the go-ahead, and then dealing with the rigorous coronavirus protocols and daily testing, Woolley’s Olympics were over at Tokyo’s Makuhari Messe Hall.

He added: “Even my coach puts things on hold. He’s engaged, he wants a house, he wants a family and it’s all on hold for this and I feel like I’ve let so many people down. It’s difficult to take."

Tokyo , Japan - 24 July 2021; Jack Woolley of Ireland in action against Lucas Guzman of Argentina during the men's -58Kg taekwondo round of 16 at the Makuhari Messe Hall during the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Jack Woolley in action at the Makuhari Messe Hall. (Getty Images)

Still only 22, there is plenty of time yet for Woolley to aim for an Olympic medal, starting with the 2024 Olympics.

“I want to be in Paris but this has been nine years leading up to this,” Woolley added.

Moreover, he wants to right the wrongs of his defeat to Guzman and showcase the sport to an Irish nation which had never seen an athlete in green compete at taekwondo.

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“Nobody knows really what taekwondo is in Ireland,” he said. “I don’t fight like that, that’s not me. It’s just a shame I put in a performance that doesn’t represent the sport to its fullest potential.

“I really hope people understand that and maybe watch some of my earlier fights, I promise I’m actually pretty good."

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