British taekwondo star Bianca Walkden travelled to Tokyo dreaming of an Olympic gold medal.
The 29-year-old, who finished with a bronze medal at Rio 2016, made no secret of the fact she was aiming for better in the Japanese capital. Things were going well until her semi-final clash against South Korea’s Lee Da-bin, who landed a crescent kick in the dying seconds of the bout to snatch victory from Walkden’s grasp.
"My goal was only to get gold and that was my bar, that's where the expectation was," Walkden told GiveMeSport Women. "And everyone knew that as well. So, to come off after the semi final, just to miss out on such fine margins, was heartbreaking really."
Walkden, a three-time world champion, had just four hours to recover from her defeat and enter the arena once again to fight for bronze. This time she was successful, defeating Poland’s Aleksandra Kowalczuk 7-3.
"Mentally, it was really tough," Walkden said. "I felt really upset because obviously I knew what I was going for, but at the same time I couldn't let the emotions overtake anything."
One thing I did get told was I would regret it more if I didn't give everything I had and acted like the champion I am and come back with a medal.
"The biggest thing I wanted to prove was I wanted to go out there and be the champion I know I am, and teach and inspire kids that it's not always about the goals, it's about how you hold yourself, it's about the core values that you have, and your mindset."
Despite missing out on gold, Walkden described becoming a two-time Olympic medallist as a "massive honour". She confirmed she will be competing at Paris 2024 to "give it one more go", hopefully this time in front of her friends and family.
Walkden confirmed the lack of spectators at Tokyo 2020 was a hindrance, but ultimately saw the Games as the "light at the end of the tunnel".
"At the end of the day, we are sports people, we like to entertain, we like to show what we've got and leave it all out there. That was the little bit that was missing," she explained.
"They were the little downsides to it, but I think the biggest positive of it all was about the fact it was still on it, it wasn't cancelled, the fact it was the light at the end of the tunnel for this whole pandemic.
Sport is starting to get the world back to normal. Getting everyone back behind each other again was incredible and so heartwarming.
The Tokyo Olympics will not just be remembered for taking place against the backdrop of a pandemic. Athletes were pushing the agenda on a range of issues, including racism, the inclusion of transgender athletes, and motherhood in sport.
The discussion around mental health in sport was particularly prominent, spearheaded by American gymnast Simone Biles and Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka.
Biles credited Osaka as her inspiration as she withdrew from five artistic gymnastics events at the Games, citing a need to protect her mental health. She then returned to claim a bronze medal in the balance beam.
Walkden praised both Biles and Osaka for raising awareness of the mental health struggles athletes can face, describing the pair as "brave".
"I think more than anything, life is important," she said. "You want to be happy in life, in the day to day, it's not just about one moment, it's about living every day as happy as you can. If this [athletes talking about mental health] can help and help the stigma around mental health, I'll definitely be a part of it. Credit to Simone Biles and Naomi, they set the bar and they have shown that champions can be like that."
Back on the field of play, Walkden revealed she was caught up in the BMX and climbing action.
"I actually loved the BMX, I really want to have a go," she laughed. "I want to go and see if I’m alright at it. Obviously I'm going to put some helmets and knee pads on and bubble wrap around me. I thought it looked unbelievable.
"Also I watched the speed climbing, it was ridiculous how fast they were up the wall, it was so high. But yeah, I'm definitely going to have a go at a few sports. I want to ask a few athletes if they can help me out and let me have a go, and hopefully, in return, they'll try some taekwondo."
Aside from trying her hand at other Olympic sports, Walkden will also be watching the upcoming Paralympics. Para-taekwondo will be making its debut at the Games, and Team GB are well represented in the sport.
"We've got three fantastic athletes going. We’ve got Amy [Truesdale], Matt [Bush] and Beth [Munro]. I think they're going to put a good show on for us and more people will get to know taekwondo even more."
Bianca was speaking on behalf of Team GB at Bridgestone’s Olympic Experience Roadshow. Bridgestone is a proud partner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.