West Derby’s world taekwondo champion Bianca Walkden is less than five months away from her second Olympic appearance, having won bronze at the 2016 Games in Rio.
Since then, the European and Grand Prix gold medal winner has been nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, successfully defended her world title twice and become world number one in her division.
Nonetheless, the 28-year-old admits she still needs an Olympic gold medal to ‘finish her story off’.
Speaking exclusively to Merseysportlive, she said: “I’ve won everything else in taekwondo and I’ve done it once, twice, three times in every other competition.
“I think for the Olympics, getting bronze last time just wasn’t enough.
“If I could finally tick off an Olympic gold, I’d have every championship and every gold medal I can in taekwondo. It would complete the set.”
Walkden’s most recent World Championship victory came in May last year, as she bettered her record as the only Briton to retain a world title by doing it a second time.
However, her victory against Zheng Shuyin in the final in Manchester came under controversial circumstances, as she was booed by the crowd for forcing the Chinese Olympic champion to disqualify after pushing her out of the ring on several occasions.
“I went out there and played the rules of the game,” Walkden said.
“I just found a way to win. I was in a position in a world final – I was either going to stand there and just come in with silver – or I could find a way to go for gold.
“I didn’t do anything out of the rule book and went for it.”
She added: “I respect any fighter that goes in and she is a great fighter.”
Having held a 10-point lead over Walkden at the time of her disqualification, Shuyin later collapsed in a heap on the medal podium.
Walkden said: “She would have done exactly the same if it was the other way around.
“I think emotions just got too high.
“But at the end of the day, if you’re in my way of getting a gold medal, I’ve got to get you out my way.”
You can watch Walkden’s controversial world title win here.
The result of Walkden’s victory meant she equalled the Guinness World Record for the most World Taekwondo Championship gold medals won by a female, and her rivalry with Shuyin was awarded the best in taekwondo.
“It was already a rivalry before [the World Championship final],” Walkden said.
“We’ve actually competed after the World Championships now and I’ve beaten her on home soil in China in December just gone, and she beat me a few months after the World Championships in the Grand Prix final.
“Every time we fight it’s a massive rivalry.
“I don’t mind it though. I like it. I think it’s good for the sport.
“In boxing, most fights are made on the entertainment of the rivalry between the fighters so I actually don’t mind it being there.”
In preparation for Tokyo 2020, Walkden is training five days a week and recently returned from President’s Cup victory in Helsingborg, Sweden.
“Training’s going really well,” she said.
“It’s really tough at the moment.
“We’re just doing as much sparring, repetition, fitness and everything now so we get the base plan before the Olympics.
“The open competitions are for us to go out there, obviously still try and win, but to try all the new stuff we’ve been trying for the Olympics so when we’re there we’re used to it.”
One of Walkden’s best friends is fellow taekwondo athlete and double Olympic champion Jade Jones, who will also be competing at this summer’s Olympics.
Not only do the pair train, eat and travel to competitions together, they also share an apartment near their training centre Manchester.
“We’ve lived together for like 10 years,” Walkden said.
“It’s nice that we’ve always been together on the same journey and we can go to the next Olympics and hopefully come back with two golds as well – another one for her and one for me.
“I think it’s nice that we’ve been able to do the journey together and be successful together which is amazing, and to share that with one of my best friends is unbelievable.”
After the first successful defence of her World Championship title, Walkden finished 10th in the 2017 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award at the Echo Arena behind household names such as Sir Mo Farah, Anthony Joshua and Lewis Hamilton.
Walkden is now world number one in the +67kg weight category, but she has had to overcome numerous obstacles on her route to success.
“It hasn’t been an easy ride to be fair,” she said.
“I was unfortunate to rupture two ACLs – my left one and my right one.
“The left one was the reason I totally missed London [2012 Olympics] because I ruptured it trying to qualify.
“Then two years later, I ruptured the right one so the rehab I had to do to get back for the operations and reconstructions was one of the hardest things I ever did.
“But at the same time, it did make me into a better athlete and a stronger person mentally as well.”
She added: “That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to overcome but it has probably made me as a person.”
Walkden’s affinity with taekwondo began when she was 11-years-old, after a school friend invited her to attend a session at Liverpool Elite Taekwondo club in Huyton.
“I just loved it,” Walkden said.
“As soon as I walked in, everyone was shouting and kicking and screaming at each other and I just thought, ‘this is something I want to do’.
“I actually didn’t even know it was in the Olympics because I didn’t know anything about it.
“I just fell in love with having a go and enjoying it.
“It took me to where I am here and I’ve never looked back.”
Despite winning various competitions around the world, Walkden has remained true to her Merseyside roots by investing her earnings into her family-run pizzeria shop in Maghull.
She said: “It’s called Di Scala Pizzeria in Maghull.
“Me and my brother put our money together and made this restaurant for our family business.
“So I think, at the moment when I’m not doing taekwondo, I’ve got to go home and help run the family pizzeria restaurant.”
In spite of her family commitments, Bianca Walkden is so confident in her ability to become Olympic champion that she says she will phone us up after Tokyo and tell us how it feels to win a gold medal.
So watch this space.
You can listen to the interview by clicking here.
(Pictures from Bianca Walkden social media under CC License)