Ireland’s leading Taekwondo stars, Jack Woolley and Conor Grassick are this weekend competing in the European Continental Qualification tournament in Istanbul, Turkey.
The event offers 16 fighters places in the Rio Games later this year. Our best wishes to Jack and also to Conor in the challenges ahead.
Background to Istanbul:
The single-elimination system competition is taking place over January 16-17 at the WOW Istanbul Hotels and Convention Centre in the Turkish capital – which previously hosted the European Continental Qualification tournament prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Each European member national association can qualify a total of four athletes, two male and two female, for the Olympics at the event.
It is first of five WTF Continental Qualification Tournaments.
The Continental Qualification events qualify the second tranche of taekwondo athletes for the Olympics. Forty-eight elite fighters have already won quota places for Rio via ranking points accrued in previous tournaments, most notably, at the World Championships and at the top-level Grand Prix series, which finished last December.
Countries which have filled their full quotas via ranking cannot qualify via the Continental Qualification events unless they relinquish the previously obtained spots.
For this reason, Belgium, Germany and Russia cannot qualify any male athletes, as they have already filled those slots. Likewise, France, Great Britain, Croatia and Sweden cannot win any further female berths. Also, no country can win a berth in any weight category in which they already hold a spot.
After the Turkish battle, the WTF’s remaining Continental Unions -Africa, Pan America, Oceania and Asia – will be holding their respective Continental Qualification Tournaments in the first quarter of 2016. Each one offers 16 spots to the Rio Olympics, except for Oceania, which is allotted eight.
A total of 128 taekwondo athletes will compete in Rio. In addition to those berths won through ranking points and via the Continental Qualification events, there are eight additional Rio. Four host country places automatically go to Brazil, and four wild cards will be decided upon and distributed at the conclusion of the Continental Qualifications.
Now to the two Irish men who will be doing their utmost to qualify – Woolley and Grassick.
For South Dubliner Jack Woolley it is astonishing that he is even in Istanbul since he is still eligible to compete at Junior level and in fact his main aim is a place in Tokyo 2020.
He has already appeared here on SportsNews Ireland following previous excellent results at Junior level. As he is already at the venue in Istanbul, we contacted his Mum, Annette who is – quite naturally – very proud of her son’s achievements to date:
“Jack will still be only 17 when the Olympics in Rio take place, a schoolboy in a man’s sport. It’s the experience more than anything that will help him to deal with what we see as just the beginning of a big career, 2020 & 2024 being key goals.
Jack’s performance the past year is proof that he has what it takes and whatever happens on Saturday at the WOW Convention Centre will be a major part of that experience that will help him prepare mentally and tactically for what comes next”.
Taekwondo fans will already be aware that he recently took ‘The Echo’ Amateur Sports Star of the Year award and is also a Health and Well Being Ambassador for South County Dublin. The 16 yrs old is a 5th-year student in Holy Family Rathcoole.
RTE are currently filming him for a ‘Road to Rio’ documentary and have a crew in Turkey to film his performance. We wondered how he is coping financially, presumably, he has lots of sponsorships both through Sporting bodies and Privately. His Mum soon put us straight:
“He desperately needs BOTH funding and a sponsorship deal if he is to continue down the path he is going. All our personal family savings are exhausted after funding last year’s competition expenses, though I must praise the I.T.U and his club South Dublin Taekwondo who have assisted as best they could with the minimal funding they have”.
Or to put it into our own words, without a High-Performance grant from Sport Ireland (Irish Sports Council) or a ‘windfall’ sponsorship deal from the corporate sector), he is in danger of not having the chance to realise his potential and make Ireland proud. Now SportsNews Ireland feels quietly confident that even as a General Election is near, one of Paschal Donohoe or Michael Ring can take ‘time out’ from the campaign trail and have a quiet word with Sport Ireland’s Kieran Mulvey and or John Treacy and ask them to allocate funding.
True in an Olympic year, funds are limited and the emphasis is on Rio but funds should also be set aside to ‘look after’ Irish stars of the future who otherwise might progress no further in their chosen sport. Here we are not simply talking about Jack Woolley for whom we have no particular brief but for other keys, future stars too, be they from boxing, athletics, gold or any other Olympic sport.
Annette, herself a former freelance journalist makes this please to the funding authorities: “This is not the UFC, there is no financial reward for winning a title and with public and indeed the Sports Council believing that ‘all Martial Arts’ are the same it makes it difficult to (a) get the recognition he deserves and (b) source funding.
What about Jack’s hopes for Rio and his career to date?
According to our information, -58kg is the lowest weight category in the Olympics and so there is an amalgamation of -54kg (Jack’s division),58kg and 63kg fighters, all plying for this last chance to make it to RIO.
Jack hasn’t fought at this weight before as the Paris Tournament was cancelled due to the bombings.
He is currently ranked 14th in the world -54kg and 39th in the Olympic -58kg-official ‘ Hang-a Star stats.
In 2015 he entered 9 Senior G1/G2 ranking events reaching the podium 7 times.
Although still only a Junior fighter at the time his achievements include Gold at Russian and Moroccan Opens (plus title of most aggressive fighter at the Russian Open.
Additional accomplishments include Silver at the Spanish, Israeli, and Croatian Open, plus Bronze at the US & Polish Open championships.
He also placed 5th at the World Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia, winning 3 fights in a row and narrowly missing out on a medal position.
Indeed (no Irish TKD fighter has ever won even a preliminary round before or ranked so highly.
He is, without doubt, the most successful Irish WTF Taekwondo player to date and a ‘real’ medal hope for Tokyo 2024 and for the 2028 Olympics too.
He only fought twice at Junior level last year because his coach decided to concentrate on building his Senior status. he won silver at both the US Open and Junior European Championships.
We feel sure that among our readers are many Company Secretaries and/or Financial Controllers who would only be too happy to have ‘on their books’ (sponsorship wise) a future International star and one of Ireland’s brightest young sports stars. In many respect, he would be – like Katie Taylor – a great ‘role’ model not only for a Company but also for the
Sport Ireland organisation and Federation of Irish Sport in introducing more youngsters to this great (albeit financially unrewarding sport).
Like Katie, Jack’s achievements would more than likely attract many hundreds of young boys and girls to Taekwondo, including many who would otherwise never have an opportunity of taking up the sport. Annette Woolley rightly paid tribute to the I.T.U, to Sport Ireland and the South Dublin TKD Club. Now perhaps there is an opportunity for those Company Secretaries/Financial Controllers to get in “at the start”.
One way of doing this right now is to contribute to the funding ‘Olympic Challenge’ but remember that this is not just about Rio but longer-term too.
You don’t need to be a major International Trading Company to support this worthy cause and think of the great kudos for your Company if as we at SportsNews Ireland believe Ireland has a future top class International Sportsman in your midst.
Individuals too, of course, may help with donations, big or small.