Sarah confident she will make grade for Olympics

Sarah Stevenson is sponsered by Alfa Romeo. Visit
Sarah Stevenson is sponsered by Alfa Romeo. Visit
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Sarah Stevenson is used to winning tough battles.

And so the South Yorkshire athlete remains confident that she will be selected this month for the four-strong Great Britain taekwondo team to contest the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The three-times world champion has been involved in a race against time to prove her fitness to compete in her fourth Olympics ever since falling victim to a knee ligament injury in a training camp in Mexico, in February.

But following successful surgery, hundreds of hours of rehabilitation and sheer will-power, the 2008 bronze medallist is ready to challenge for gold.

“I’m 99 per cent certain that I’m going to be there,” Stevenson, aged 29, who comes from Bentley, Doncaster, told The Star.

“I’ve still got one or two things to tweak here and there, and I’m still going to keep looking after my knee.

“But as long as I can do all the training - which I nearly can - I’m confident of being picked.

“My preparations haven’t been ideal. The plan at the start of the year was to compete in the German Open and the recent European Championships, but that’s not happened so (if selected) I’m going to have to get some sparring partners in and have some matches and try and replicate a competition.

“As I say, it’s not ideal but I didn’t have any preparation before last year’s World Championships in Korea and I still won.

“If I am selected, hopefully I’ll be able to draw from my experience in the last three Olympics; I’ve been there so I know what to expect.”

Despite becoming the country’s first ever medallist in the sport in the Beijing Games four years ago, Stevenson came away disappointed with the bronze.

“Obviously things happen in fights, but I felt that I had a good chance of gold there,” she said.

Her prospects of striking gold weren’t helped by the lack of preparation for her semi-final after she made history by being reinstated, following a lengthy inquest, after television footage showed a judge had missed a match-winning kick against double Olympic champion Chen Zhong.

“I’ve come down a weight division since then and I’m now competing at under-67kg - the division in which she finished fourth in the 2000 Games in Sydney as a 17 year-old - said Stevenson, who was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in last year’s New Year Honours for services to martial arts.

“I think it’s quite a strong division but I feel a bit stronger and faster in the weight group because I’m one of the bigger ones whereas before I probably wasn’t as strong as some of the other girls in the heavyweight division.”

Although she now lives in Manchester, where the sport’s national academy is based and where she is coached by her husband Steve Jennings, Stevenson still retains close links with Doncaster instructor Gary Sykes, whose Dome-based club she first joined over 20 years ago.

“Gary was there in the beginning and he’s still there now,” she said. “He’s still a mentor and I still see and speak to him and he’s a really important person in my life.”