Tokyo 2020 - 'You’ve got to believe what you want to achieve' - Team GB's Bianca Walkden dreaming of Olympic gold
Olympic taekwondo gold is all that's missing from Walkden's honours list, as a triple world and European champion. The 29-year-old has told Eurosport she is not trying to put too much pressure on herself or she would "flip out" and be "too nervous", but admits she has pictured the moment of standing on top of the podium in Japan.
Bianca Walkden is going for her first Olympic gold having won world and European titles
Team GB’s Bianca Walkden admits she has allowed herself to picture winning Olympic gold and joked she even allows herself to practice the medal ceremony in the mirror.
It is the only honour the 29-year-old has not won, as a reigning world champion who has held that title in the +73kg category since 2015. She is also the reigning European champion and has largely dominated the sport for the past six years.
But Walkden finished with an agonising bronze medal at Rio 2016, an achievement she is proud of but which does not quite fit with her usual standards.
"I’ve done it all, I’ve won the Worlds, the Europeans and tick off this last one that I need and upgrade the Olympic bronze medal and I’ll feel complete and have the full set,” she told Eurosport.
If I just think this is it, this is the last thing I need and put too much on it I could panic, flip out and be too nervous - it would be too much.
"But because we’ve fought these people over and over again, I just need to think it’s the same ring, same people, I would do the same stuff at any other competition to try and win - I just need to have that mindset.”
Walkden was close to making the gold medal match in Rio, but fell short after losing in a golden point round in the semi-finals. Although she would usually beat all-comers, her defeat, and that of her British team-mate Lutalo Muhammad, showcased how the tiniest of mistakes can be punished in her sport.
Tokyo 2020 - 'I want gold even more' - Bianca Walkden gunning for elusive Olympic gold
"It is ridiculous but that’s what makes it so exciting and makes it good to watch and enjoy. Every day, anything can happen, you could repeat your own performance against exactly the same opponents but have a different result.
"It’s crazy how fine the margins are, it just shows you have to focus until the last second. It’s mentally tough, you can have your tactics and then you have to hope and pray that it comes off.
"That’s what we’ve been focusing on over the last few years, I know I can do it, I just need to put it in practice step by step, round by round. Now I know I can only control myself and perform at my best, and that’s good enough.”
Most athletes will talk about trusting in their process and will not admit - at least in public - that they have pictured themselves winning gold. But Walkden is different - she is a bubbly personality who is happy to tell us she has done the same as many of us would have done as a child.
All the time I’m practicing in the mirror and singing God Save the Queen. You’ve got to believe what you want to achieve. If I don’t believe, I’m not going to get it. I have to visualise it, I’m a true believer in that.
"So I do stand there sometimes and think ‘I am Olympic champion, I will hear that national anthem’ - hopefully I can do that for real.”
Walkden is close friends and housemates with Jade Jones - who will be trying to become the first ever athlete to win three taekwondo golds, having become a household name by winning her first at London 2012. They continued their preparations for Tokyo at home together when the UK first went into coronavirus lockdown last year, and Walkden admits they can barely live without each other.
"It just shows how close we are, we’ve lived together since 2010, we do everything together. We train together, we’re best friends out of the sport, when the pandemic hit, we changed the garage into a gym and because we had each other, it was a lot easier.
"If either of us had a bad day we could pick each other up. We’re on the same level and pushing for the same dream, and I don’t think I could have done it without her.”
When Tokyo is over, Walkden has revealed she is likely to target a third Games in Paris: It’s only three years away, it’s a lot less training. Let me get this one out of the way first. With the ranking points as well, if I do well really well this year, I’ll be halfway there anyway.”