Bradly Sinden, Doncaster’s world taekwondo champion on Sarah Stevenson’s inspiration, family support and his Tokyo Olympic quest

Bradly Sinden knew what he wanted out of life even before he had reached his teenage years – and there is a picture to prove it.

Great Britain's Bradly Sinden (left) on his way to winning his semi final match against Korea's Dae-Hoon Lee, during day two of the World Taekwondo Championships at Manchester Arena. (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire)

“Sarah Stevenson was having pictures taken with her medals after a session once in 2011,” says Sinden, 22, the latest taekwondo world beater from Doncaster.

“She had her 2008 Beijing bronze and her 2011 world gold medal. Everyone wanted their picture taken with the Olympic medal, but I wanted it with the worlds because that’s the gold.

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“So there’s a picture of me holding her world championship gold medal.

Doncaster's Bradly Sinden celebrates after winning the Men's -68kkg final against Spain's Javier Perez Polo (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire)

“And then in 2019 there’s a picture of Sarah holding my world championship gold medal.”

Because just eight years later Sinden had emulated his fellow Doncastrian by becoming a world champion, doing so in the 68kg category in front of an expectant home crowd and jubilant family in Manchester in May 2019.

Back then, thoughts were turning to just a few months later, and whether he could match or even better Stevenson – Britain’s first Olympic medallist in taekwondo – by stepping onto the Olympic podium.

But coronavirus hit, Tokyo 2020 was postponed by a year and Sinden was forced to train at home.

Now, six months out from his delayed Olympic debut, Sinden remains as single-minded as ever.

“I took the positives from the Games being delayed,” said Sinden, who maximised the return to competition late last year by winning gold at the two European events he contested.

“If you look at my track record since joining the GB academy in 2016, within a year of joining the team I got my first worlds medal, within the next year I was consistently medalling abroad and then within three years I won a world title.

“It just reassures me that an extra year of training will give me chance to work on the tactics I need to work on.”

For Sinden, taekwondo is very much a mental examination as much as it is physical.

“I’m a very tactical thinker and with how taekwondo has progressed you can’t just be really smart, or you can’t just be able to kick, it’s finding that combination of both,” he says.

“Figuring out what I do best and how to do that against different players is what I love.

“I’m all about the thought-process. If things aren’t going to help me I’m not interested. I’ve never really got nervous because it’s a waste of the thought-process where I could be getting my head sorted for something else.

“I know my strengths, and that’s one that has got me to where I am today.”

Eighteen years ago his taekwondo journey started as a four-year-old dragged along to his elder sister’s sessions.

“I was a hyper-active kid, I couldn’t really sit down,” he remembers. “I was copying my sister with the kicks until I could start when I was six. The coaches could see I was interested and said if I didn’t misbehave they’d let me have a go.

“I ended up stopping when I was six because my mum had twin brothers. When I was eight I wanted to go back and fell in love with it from there.”

National junior competitions and international events followed, before a gold medal at the 2015 Junior European Championships gave him the belief that he was good enough to go all the way.

Through it all his family’s support has never wavered. Mum Sheryl used to drive him from Doncaster to Manchester twice a week for national team training sessions; his ‘nana babysat his twin brothers’ and even sister Jodie is still involved in the sport.

“Jodie might be going to the Olympics as a referee,” explains Bradly, “so there might be one of us on either side.

“She was good at taekwondo but didn’t have the fight in her. She’s really smart so decided to become a referee and now she’s on the international circuit and part of the top 50 referees in the world.

“She might be one of the top 30 used at the Olympics.

“All parts of my family have supported me in different ways. To do well in sports you can’t do it yourself, you need a good support network behind you and I’ve got that.

“It’s why when I won the worlds, the main happiness for me was seeing my mum in the crowd.

“I remember jumping a massive barrier and giving her a big hug. That was my way of repaying her.”

Next stop is Tokyo, for which he has still to be selected even though he was the athlete who qualified Britain’s place in the 65kg category.

“We have a plan in place to get me there,” he says. “I’ll be doing everything in my power.”

After which, hopefully, there’ll be another picture exchange with Sarah Stevenson.”

Will Olympics go ahead?

News this week that the International Olympic Committee is doing everything possible to ensure the Tokyo Games go ahead despite the coronavirus pandemic came as a reassurance to world taekwondo champion Bradly Sinden.

IOC chief Thomas Bach reaffirmed the body’s commitment to getting the Games on amid ongoing rumours of it being pushed back or cancelled altogether.

Sinden, 22, from Doncaster – a world champion in the 68kg category – said: “I’m confident it will happen. From what I’ve seen of the Olympics, it will probably be a different experience, but the way the BOA and IOC have been communicating and then trying to work with the Japanese government to make sure everything is a safe environment for everyone involved is encouraging.

“It gives us training for it a bit of encouragement and reassurance that while we get our heads down to focus on what we have to do, all the hard work will be happening behind the scenes to make the Games happen.”

Sinden will be ready even if he won’t be as familiar with many of his potential opponents as he traditionall would. “Hopefully we’ll get a competition in out in Asia, otherwise we won’t have fought against some of them for 18 months.”

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