When people hear Taekwondo, they think of Bruce Lee in movies,The Karate Kid waxing on and waxing off, even Kung Fu Panda… But what people don’t know is that there is much more behind the world’s most progressive martial art.
Taekwondo was formed in Korea and has become increasingly popular globally. But whats all the kicking about? Tallaght’s Jack Woolley can help you figure that out.
The up and coming martial arts star is already setting his sights on Tokyo 2020 after narrowly losing out on a place at this year’s Rio Olympic Games.
Woolley has been gathering support internationally for his ability and technique as he keeps his Olympic dream alive for Tokyo 2020. Videos of him training are going viral online and catching the eye of Taekwondo practitioners everywhere.
Woolley’s response on social media to his recent fame and viral video stardom has been courteous and humble; a true sportsman.
“ Thanks to everyone supporting and also to those who aren’t so supportive. if you don’t like it that’s your own opinion but hey it works and for a 17 year old -54kg boy to be in the top 5 in the world I am proud and feel impressed by myself so thanks everyone your encouraging comments help and the not so encouraging ones still push me to prove you all wrong and get a gold at Tokyo 2020 !” (sic)
Woolley is not your typical teenage boy. At the age of seventeen, he is ranked number 4 in the world in the World Taekwondo Ranking System for March 2016 and has already racked up 5 podium places this year so far.
Funding the dream
While the Olympic dream is one that is longed for by athletes of all disciplines and backgrounds, it’s not all glitz and glamour on the way to the top.
Jack Woolley knows this. The 2020 hopeful may be on course for auto-qualification and realisation of his Olympic dream, but it’s not all plain sailing. Funding is an issue that plagues athletes from all disciplines, Woolley is no exception.
Woolley receives limited funding from the Irish Sports Council and has often had to turn to fundraising to keep his dreams alive. A gofundme page has raised €690 for the budding star to travel and compete and Woolley is thankful for the support. A statement on his gofundme page really shows the mental strength of the Taekwondo fighter outside of the ring as he explains that the dream isn’t just about him.
“It’s not all about me. I give back as much as I can to my sport, club & community. I teach a taekwondo tots class at South Dublin Taekwondo. I am qualified to coach kids with special needs. I volunteer at competitions as a corner judge. I have been giving talks, demonstrations and workshops at my local primary school for several years. This year I have had the honour of being an ambassador for South County Dublin’s Health and Well Being week. I try my best to be a positive role model.”
As well as this fundraising effort, Jack Woolley’s club South Dublin Taekwondo have also organised “Kickathons”, One-to-one competions, training sessions and even bag packing to help to fund his dream.
His parents Annette and Harry Woolley have also been extremely supportive of him and have given from their own pockets to aid their son’s progression in the sport. No dream was too big for them to conquer throughout his career as a junior player in Taekwondo and that stays true throughout his senior career as a player in the sport.
Jack’s success is something that he could not have achieved on his own. His coach Robert Taaffe of South Dublin Taekwondo has been training with Jack for almost a decade to bring him to where he is today.
Taaffe’s strength as a coach has led to the development and progression of Woolley’s abilities to the high standard that they are now. As well as this, Woolley’s strength and conditioning coach Niamh Buffini has always been on hand to help him reach the best of his ability. Together, they have become the masterminds behind a future Olympic athlete.
The difference with Taekwondo is that unlike UFC or Boxing, players that are victorious in competitions do not get financial payment or reward. It is a minority sport in Ireland and limited funding can hamper bigger dreams for players.
Tasting silver in Spain
The esteemed fighter, a member of the Irish Taekwondo Union, had his latest podium finish last weekend in Spain at the Spanish Open G1 in Madrid. Jack took a silver in the male -54kg category. Unlike UFC and boxing, Woolley did not have just one fight to get through on the day.
In his first fight, Woolley brought the home grown Spanish player Jose Ignacio Munoz Trejo to his knees in a tremendous 14-0 victory to get through the round of 16 elimination process.
With one fight down and the podium in sight, Woolley advanced to the quarter-finals to face Amine Elmarmazi of Morocco. The fight was a true test of Woolley’s character as he edged closer to victory.
Jack Woolley was victorious with a tremendous point-gap result of 16-2.
With two fights down and a potential two fights to go, Woolley faced up to his next opponent, African Games Champion Nabil from Egypt. The pressure was on but nothing was too much for the Irish fighter.
Woolley was quick to quash the pressure and managed an impressive 18-7 victory over Nabil. His final test in his quest for a gold medal finish came in the form of a mouth-watering final against the World #2 Rodriguez of Mexico.
The final was a long awaited meeting and tough test for Woolley against a player who auto-qualified a place for the 2016 Rio Olympics, is a former World Champion and a two time Grand Prix Medallist.
Woolley’s fighting spirit took over as he faced up to his opponent and led himself into battle. Rodriguez, an infamous fighter in the Taekwondo world, took the reins and defeated Woolley 8-4 in the final.
Despite the loss in the final, Woolley still achieved a podium place and a silver medal at the ranking event. His silver medal gave him an additional 6 WTF ranking points towards his bid to auto-qualify for Tokyo 2020.
Previous to this feat, Woolley has achieved a silver medal at the Fujairah Open, gold in the Canada Open, silver in the US Open and bronze in the Olympic Qualification Tournament in 2016 alone.
Woolley’s latest achievement received praise not only nationally, but also on an international scale.
In preparation for this season, Woolley has been a sparring partner for Finnish athlete Suvi Mikkonen who qualified for Rio 2016 in January. The Finnish Olympic hopeful took to Facebook to praise her “crazy Irish friend” for his most recent victory.
“Haha! My crazy Irish friend Jack Woolley took the silver medal yesterday at the Spanish Open! Very proud of my whole team and happy to have shared this experience with so many international friends, Impact, NRG USA, Galeb team Serbia, Tkd Samguk Tenerife, Anastasiya Novikova from Russia and of course my own HANKUK family! #Hankuk #SpanishOpen#InternationalAlliance “
Woolley’s quest to build up his ranking points for 2020 will continue this weekend at the German Open in Hamburg where he will again compete in the male -54kg category. 48 countries are currently registered to attend the event with the hopes of gaining podium places for their national players.
Woolley will be one of five Irish fighters going for gold at this weekend’s competition. He will be joined by other Team Ireland hopefuls Adam Nugent, David Phelan, and Aoibhe Thornton (South Dublin Taekwondo) and Conor Grassick (Peak Performance Taekwondo Academy).
Thankfully, no obstacle has been too big for Jack Woolley to overcome with the backing of the Irish Taekwondo Union, his family and his club South Dublin Taekwondo.
Tokyo 2020, be ready for the first ever Irish Olympic fighter to blow your minds.