Jade Jones has only experienced the highs of the Olympic rollercoaster – now she knows all about its crushing lows too.
Jones won taekwondo gold at London and Rio and even claimed the Youth Olympic title in 2010 – a decade-long domination of the world stage for the 28-year old.
However, her bid to become the first British woman to win golds at three consecutive Games fell at the first hurdle – switching attention to equestrian Charlotte Dujardin and cyclist Laura Kenny, who both have a shot at the historic feat.
Jones was left stunned and in tears as Kimia Alizadeh of the Refugee Olympic Team pulled off a shock victory.
Alizadeh, who won bronze five years ago, hasn’t competed at international level since 2018 after fleeing her native Iran.
She later lost her semi-final with Tatiana Minina, ending Jones’s hopes of a bronze medal fight in the repechage.
Alizadeh had beaten Jones twice before, including at the World Championships in 2015, but her long period away from the sport made the Welsh fighter an odds-on favourite.
“I’m absolutely gutted, it’s not how I planned the day to go and I’m just really frustrated with myself,” said Jones.
“I wasn’t the best so I just have to take it on the chin and congratulate the other girl.
“It was a tough draw and I didn’t know who I was going to be fighting until two hours before but no excuses.
“Obviously it’s easy to say ‘woulda coulda shoulda’ but champions adapt and I didn’t.
“It’s going to take a while for the emotions to sink in so I’ll probably take a bit of time out and work out what happens next.”
Jones admitted she found it tough with her family – which she dubs ‘Team Crazy’ – locked out in Japan while the lack of a crowd meant she struggled to fire herself up.
“I do love a crowd and my family being here and that was a struggle,” she said.
“I just put too much pressure on myself going into it. I really did feel it more than I expected and not having my family there to push me out of that fear zone really did affect me.
“Normally if I feel the pressure I’ll hear them screaming and see their little faces and it’ll push me into attack mode and that’s what was missing. I just didn’t switch into that attack mode, I just kept in the scared mode.
“I’ve got the best family in the world and it showed even more when I lost. I called them to FaceTime and they were all celebrating as if I’d won.”
Britain’s taekwondo team – who arrived in Japan with five legitimate medal contenders – are a tight-knit bunch.
And Jones’s best friend, world champion Bianca Walkden, sobbed as the result was confirmed. Walkden accompanied her roommate through her media commitments, which Jones performed with trademark class, and will now focus on her podium bid on Tuesday.
“Bianca’s been amazing and seeing her up in the crowd crying, I think she’s as hurt as me,” added Jones, whose match was live on Eurosport and discovery+.
“I’ll just try to tell her my mistakes so she doesn’t make them. It’s all for her to go after that gold medal that she deserves.”
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