Muhammad: Post-Rio interview was like therapy

·3-min read
Lutalo Muhammad at Team England Futures camp in Birmingham
Lutalo Muhammad at Team England Futures camp in Birmingham

By Ben Hart

Double Olympic medallist Lutalo Muhammad says perspective was the cure to his Rio 2016 heartbreak.

Muhammad claimed a silver in taekwondo, having already won bronze at London 2012, but was devastated to fall a short of a lifetime’s ambition – an Olympic gold medal – after losing in the last second of the final.

A BBC interview shortly after his defeat where the Walthamstow-welterweight was reduced to tears then went viral.

But that helped to fast-track Muhammad’s rehabilitation, allowing him to convey – and others to understand – the sheer depth of his disappointment.

And the 31-year-old has encouraged the class of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games to be just as candid if they believe themselves to have fallen short of their own dreams and expectations.

“I think the first thing is just to have that period of time to be honest and open about your disappointment,” he said, on The SportsAid Vault podcast.

“I think one of the major benefits to me having an interview that went viral after I lost the Olympic final was that it was almost a sort of therapy in a way, because I was able to just express my emotions and get my disappointment out, or not even disappointment, my devastation out.

“I just remember the feeling. It was like the earth was going to crumble from underneath me and I was going to sink in. It was really a trying time.”

Muhammad believes he reached the peak of his powers in 2016, the Games where he and his father had planned for Olympic glory.

As gutted as he was, he soon recognised the bigger picture and his role, albeit an inadvertent one, in helping to attract a new audience to his sport.

“I got to see my opponent from the Ivory Coast go home to the capital city and the entire country stopped,” he recalled.

“I saw what it did for him, and I saw what it did for his nation. And honestly, that made me feel happy.

“I saw what it did for the continent of Africa. Taekwondo, my sport, is now a major sport on the continent. And I think deep down when I was watching, I thought, you know what, that is the bigger picture.

“Now African nations are a major force in this combat sport now. So, seeing the bigger picture, seeing what it can do for somebody, a nation, a continent, which is the perspective. Seeing that bigger picture was my silver lining.”

Each episode of the SportsAid Vault Podcast provides listeners with unique insights into the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games alongside special guests.

The second series of the podcast, hosted by BBC Sport presenter, commentator, and reporter Tom Gayle, is inspired by the Team England Futures programme, being delivered by SportsAid on behalf of Commonwealth Games England and Sport England and saw over 1,000 talented young athletes and aspiring support staff attend Birmingham 2022.

In the latest episode, Muhammad explained that he would compare his achievements to those of his heroes, Olympic legends Linford Christie and Michael Johnson.

And it was only in the latter stages of his career, one that saw him become the most successful male in British taekwondo history, that he recognised how counterproductive those comparisons were.

“I remember when I got bronze or silver, I was just so angry at myself,” he said.

“Oh, my gosh, I am ruining it. I have not got a perfect record like Johnson; I have not got a gold medal like Linford. I really was hard on myself.

“And narrative changed in my head when I was like, well hold on. That is their story. This is my story. This is my journey.

“It is not perfect, but it is mine. And that is when I really started to appreciate and have gratitude for what I did. That was powerful for me.”

The SportsAid Vault Podcast is live and available to listen to now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and Acast! You can find out more about Team England Futures by visiting https://www.sportsaid.org.uk/partnerships/team-england-futures/.