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Mahama Cho dreaming of Olympic gold

The 31-year-old was heavily influenced by meetings with former Arsenal defender Kolo Toure at his local mosque.

Mahama Cho has no regrets about choosing taekwondo over a potential "lavish" football lifestyle and hopes inspirational advice from Kolo Toure can spur him on to Olympic glory.

Heavyweight fighter Cho is preparing for his second successive Games after edging out two-time Olympic medallist Lutalo Muhammad for a spot in Team GB's squad for Tokyo.

Aged just 16, he was a semi-professional footballer for Erith Town in the London borough of Bexley but soon opted to dedicate his focus to taekwondo, attracted by the discipline of a sport in which his father Zakaia Cho was African champion.

Great Britain's Mahama Cho, left, finished fourth at Rio 2016
Great Britain's Mahama Cho, left, finished fourth at Rio 2016 (David Davies/PA)

A practising Muslim, Cho's assured yet humble outlook on life was also heavily influenced by memorable meetings with former Arsenal defender Toure at a mosque in Peckham.

"I know what you are thinking: I could have been going around driving the Mercedes' and the Bentleys, I could have been in a lavish home and all of that but the reason I actually went for taekwondo was just because of the character and the person I wanted to become," the 31-year-old told the PA news agency.

"The sport has the discipline aspect and the competitive side, so this is what triggered me more than anything else.

"As much as I love football; football we all know you need 11 guys up to shape and if a couple of you are not on point that could be the weakness for them to get that victory.

"But on taekwondo, you're the one that does the work, you're the one that's in and out every single day sacrificing your time to make sure that you are given the opportunity to go to the Games, go to the worlds, go to the European Championship. And if there is anyone to blame, you blame yourself.

Former Arsenal defender Kolo Toure, pictured, gave lasting advice to Mahama Cho
Former Arsenal defender Kolo Toure, pictured, gave lasting advice to Mahama Cho (David Davies/PA)

"That's more why I went down that field, to have that grip of what you've got to do to make sure you're on point and in your fittest shape for any tournament to come and represent the country. That was what I loved and I wouldn't change it for the world."

Speaking about his encounters with Toure, Cho said: "This was in my youngest days when I was growing up, when I was still doing taekwondo and football together.

"He used to come to our local mosque to be with us in the community. I still remember today the advice he gave me: always make sure that you give your best to be respectful and make sure you present yourself in a respectable manner.

"I have been carrying that with me ever since and what a role model he is. He definitely gave some of the best advice when I was growing up."

Cho, a world silver medallist in 2017, will head to Japan with unfinished business following an agonising fourth-placed finish at Rio 2016.

He was named in Team GB's five-person squad on Tuesday, alongside Jade Jones, Bianca Walkden, Lauren Williams and Bradly Sinden, while Muhammad – who stepped up from -80kg to the +80kg division in 2018 following bronze at London 2012 and silver in Brazil four years later – will travel as his reserve.

Like Toure, Cho was born in the west African country of Ivory Coast.

He left for London – where his father was teaching taekwondo and working as a taxi driver – aged eight without being able to speak English.

Cho has previously said he could still hear his dad questioning his decision to favour the Korean martial art over football and hopes to fully vindicate the decision by becoming Britain's first male Olympic gold medallist in the sport.

He said: "My dad was my role model growing up. He's very proud because he's never been to an Olympics before, so for it to be my second one...

"I hope I put our family name on the highest pedestal and getting that gold medal would be the icing on the cake.

"That's what we're dreaming, that's what we're looking to do and I can't wait to get out to Tokyo and breathe in that competitiveness again and hopefully come away with that gold medal.

"We (Britain) have never had an Olympic taekwondo male gold medallist before and there's an opportunity here to be able to make history and I hope to God that when I go out there history will be made."

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