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Bianca Walkden is bracing herself for quieter heavyweight bouts in Tokyo but believes the strength of Team GB’s home support will have a galvanising effect on those going for gold, writes Paul Martin.
Walkden’s encounters are often accompanied by passionate vocal encouragement from her dad, former boxer Saeed Haraini, but an absence of overseas spectators means her family will be tuning in from Liverpool this summer.
The 29-year-old is confident she can deal with the lack of atmosphere inside the arena and will be thinking of those watching on from afar as she bids to add Olympic gold to a collection including multiple World and European titles.
“Whenever we go away to the Olympics you see all the British flags and there are loads of travelling supporters,” said Walkden, who is working with Purplebricks to encourage the nation to get behind Team GB on their journey to Tokyo.
“We know they will all be watching on TV this summer and hopefully they’ll put their flags outside their houses – I’ve seen some banners already, which is amazing.
“To know everyone is behind us from home is the push we need to uplift us as we go out to do it for the nation.
“For my family not to be out there will not be the same. Everyone knows them now – especially my dad. He’s so loud in the crowd, shouting ‘no mercy’ and making sure I give everything. We’re more known for him shouting than me fighting!
“I know I’ll have their support from home and I’ll probably ring them more than I think. On the day itself I’ll have tunnel vision - then hopefully I can Facetime them and show them the medal.”
Walkden has conquered all before her since earning bronze at Rio 2016, winning an unprecedented clean sweep of Grand Prix events the following year and scooping the most recent of her three European crowns in April.
Fellow Brits Jade Jones – Walkden’s housemate and best friend – and Rebecca McGowan joined her on top of the podium in Sofia and the heavyweight star believes this summer will be a memorable one for British taekwondo.
“We set the bar so high as a group and we are always pushing each other,” she said.
“We have a bigger squad going this time and hopefully we can all come back with medals.
“Winning the European Championship was a nice boost as we haven’t had many competitions through lockdown.
“It’s been crazy as normally we compete every month but going out and winning the Europeans, that nearest major, has made me feel ready.
“To hear the anthem play made me think ‘I want to be hearing this in Tokyo’, as I was looking up and holding that gold medal. It makes you motivated and committed for the Olympics.”
Bianca Walkden is working with Purplebricks to encourage the nation to get behind Team GB on their journey to Tokyo, with the same amazing home support as London 2012. Visit @PurplebricksUK or https://www.purplebricks.co.uk/team-gb