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Lauren Williams takes silver for GB in taekwondo

Lauren Williams takes silver for GB in taekwondo
© Reuters
The Blackwood 22-year-old had risen from the ashes of an injury-ravaged year to blaze into the women's -67kg final.

Lauren Williams came agonisingly close to claiming Olympic taekwondo gold for Great Britain at the Makuhari Hall in Tokyo before a late burst by her opponent Matea Jelic sealed the title for Croatia.

The Blackwood 22-year-old had risen from the ashes of an injury-ravaged year to blaze into the women’s -67kg final and fleetingly looked to have the biggest prize in her sport at her mercy.

But watched by Jade Jones, whose win at the 2012 Olympics inspired Williams to give up a successful junior career in kick-boxing and emulate her hero, Williams lost a three-point advantage with 10 seconds remaining to lose 25-22.

It proved a heartbreaking end to a spectacular day for Williams who had carved a one-point advantage at the end of round one and who turned the tie back in her favour in the final round with two consecutive two-point trunk kicks heading into the last half-minute.

But Jelic, the world number one who also claimed the European crown with victory over Williams in the final in April, hauled left with a three-point head-kick with nine seconds remaining, and followed up with a body shot which effectively secured her win.

Despite boasting two European titles to her name, Williams arrived in Tokyo as one of the lesser-known members of the British taekwondo team, partly due to a recurring ankle problem which at one point looked likely to scupper her participation in the Games at all.

A product of the same Blackwood kick-boxing club as Lauren Price, the reigning world boxing champion who is also in Tokyo to compete in the women’s middleweight category, she was persuaded to switch to taekwondo after glimpsing Jones win her first gold in London in 2012, and won a place at the sport’s elite academy in Manchester through its ‘Fighting Chance’ programme.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Day Three
Lauren Williams was left to reflect on a dramatic late defeat (Martin Rickett/PA)

Considered too young to move north on her own, Williams convinced her parents to live with her in a caravan on the outskirts of Manchester for a year, being driven in and out of the city for daily training sessions, and it was a sacrifice that would prove spectacularly worthwhile.

Williams went on to win those European titles but injuries that have dogged her throughout her career led to a reputation as a talented if inconsistent performer, which was underscored in the three contests that took her all the way to the Olympic final.

Williams began by outclassing Tonga’s Malia Paseka, who exited bruised and tearful after just 71 seconds of their opening contest at the Makuhari Hall.

She looked set to make a sterner quarter-final test look easy as she cruised into a 12-3 lead at the end of the second round against Hedaya Wahba, a Rio bronze medallist in the lighter -57kg category, only to almost surrender her advantage when two successive four-body body kicks brought the Egyptian back to within a single point.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Day Three
Williams shrugged off an injury-ravaged year to reach the Olympic final (Martin Rickett/PA)

Williams just about survived, her 13-12 triumph taking her into the semi-finals and a bout against another Rio bronze medallist, Ruth Gbagbi of the Ivory Coast.

A blistering start, in which Williams scored two successive three-point head kicks, lifted her into an 18-3 lead and this time she did not look like surrendering her advantage, although the African had reduced her deficit to six when the clock ran down.

Jelic represented an even stiffer challenge, not least on the basis of her victory over Williams in the final of the European Championship in April, a victory which denied the Welsh fighter a third continental crown.

And in a repeat of the agonising turnaround which denied her team-mate Bradly Sinden Olympic gold on Sunday night, Williams’ opponent showed her class when it mattered to deny Williams a fairytale finish.

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