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Olympics: I gave it my best shot, says disappointed South Yorkshire fighter Sarah Stevenson

Disappointed: Doncaster's Sarah Stevenson reacts after losing to USA's Paige McPherson in the -67kg Women's Preliminary Round at the ExCeL Arena at the London 2012 Olympics. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

Disappointed: Doncaster's Sarah Stevenson reacts after losing to USA's Paige McPherson in the -67kg Women's Preliminary Round at the ExCeL Arena at the London 2012 Olympics. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

SOUTH Yorkshire’s taekwondo champ Sarah Stevenson said her parents would have been proud of her - even though her Olympic medal hopes have been dashed.

Stevenson was selected for London 2012 just months after losing both of her parents to cancer last year.

The South Yorkshire sportswoman cemented her status as one of Great Britain’s sporting ambassadors when she was chosen to read out the Olympic oath on behalf of all the athletes at the opening ceremony last month.

But, despite success being out of her reach today when she lost to American Paige McPherson in the preliminary round in the women’s under-67kg at ExCeL, Stevenson said she was not a quitter.

The 29-year-old told the BBC: “I did my best. I just came here, my mum and dad wanted me to be here, so I’m here and I know they’d be proud.”

Stevenson, from Doncaster, added: “I would have been forgiven to quit and sit in the corner and cry but I’m not a quitter and I would never have quit.

“Just to be here and do my best and I’ve no regrets. I want to wake up tomorrow and have no regrets. I think I might be able to do that. Obviously I’m going to be a bit disappointed but that was my aim and me and my family’s aim.”

Stevenson’s career has gone from strength to strength since she first attended the Doncaster Allstars club at the age of seven.

A shy, quiet child, she went along because her elder brother Simon took classes there and she was being bullied.

She wanted to be able to protect herself but she found a talent for the sport and, in 1998, was crowned Junior World Champion.

Just two years later, she had drawn the attention of martial arts star and actor Jackie Chan while he was in the UK promoting his film Shanghai Noon.

Chan sponsored Stevenson around the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, where she achieved fourth place aged just 17.

She went on to become the first British taekwondo World Champion in 2001.

But her success has not been without difficulty.

Stevenson became one of the most memorable athletes to take part in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 when she was controversially eliminated in the quarter finals after a judging error.

The decision was later overturned and Stevenson, despite only having 20 minutes to prepare for her next match and injuring her ankle in the process, went on to win bronze.

British, European and World titles followed her Olympic success, but the sportswoman suffered huge personal tragedy.

Stevenson took time out from her career to nurse both her parents through their illness and agonised about competing in the World Championships in May 2011.

But as she took the title for the third time, she dedicated her success to her family.

“My mum and dad are absolutely my inspiration now, even more than what they were before,” she said as she cared for them both.

Sadly, her father, Roy, died from a brain tumour in July 2011. Her mother, Diane, lost her battle to cancer in November.

Stevenson was selected to represent Team GB at London 2012 earlier this year.

She told the BBC last year: “They lived for what I was doing in taekwondo, that’s all they lived for.

“I’ve got to just learn to live with the fact that they’re not going to be physically here but maybe I can use it as an advantage and say, ‘You know what, no-one else’s parents can actually be with them on the ring, and hopefully they can be’.”

Stevenson’s career has also been blighted by injury.

In February this year, she damaged her knee during training and had to undergo ligament surgery.

But her time out to recover has allowed Stevenson to spend more time with her family - something that is unsurprisingly more important to her than ever before.

She is also able to combine family life with her sporting passion - her husband Steve Jennings is also her trainer.

Despite her achievements, including collecting an MBE for her services to martial arts earlier this year, the 2012 Doncaster Sports Personality of the Year has remained grounded.

Even with a punishing training schedule, Stevenson allows herself the occasional “treat night”, consisting of a Chinese takeaway, sweets and a DVD.

She recently set up Sarah Stevenson Inspires, which aims to educate and train young, aspiring taekwondo athletes.

A tattoo on Stevenson’s wrist, in tribute to her parents and reading “because of you”, is a reminder of her own inspiration and the personal adversity she has overcome.

 

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