For taekwondo star Caden Cunningham going to the 2024 Paris Olympics is no longer a dream, it is a must.
The Huddersfield star has enjoyed a rapid ascent to the upper echelons of the sport, earning a first Grand Prix gold in Rome in June to boost his Olympic bid.
It is perfect preparation for Paris for Cunningham, who is unashamedly bullish in his ambition to not just get to the Games next summer but bring back gold.
“I have never had an issue with motivation, but Paris just adds a bit of fire to my training,” said Cunningham, who is one of over 1,000 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing him to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering medical support – this is vital for his pathway to the Paris 2024 Games.
“Each session is with pure intent, I have got a goal. It stopped being a dream a couple of years ago and turned into a goal, a realistic thing, so I am in the gym every day doing everything I can so that in a year’s time I can put on the best version of myself and bring home the gold.
“Every opportunity I get to compete is exciting. It’s fun, I do taekwondo because I love it. Regardless of the Olympics and this goal I am going towards, the process to get there all I have got to do is enjoy myself and push myself.”
With the Paris 2024 Olympics only one year away, the Games are set to inspire people and communities all across the country. Cunningham hopes that by sharing his story it will give others motivation to get involved into sport.
The road to Paris means a full-time schedule of training for Cunningham at the National Taekwondo Centre in Manchester.
It is there that Cunningham has been able to rub shoulders with the very best of Britain on the mat, including double Olympic champion Jade Jones and three-time world champion Bianca Cook.
And while the demands of a heavyweight mean Cunningham spends plenty of hours in the gym, the 20-year-old believes the real gains are being made learning about the mental side of the sport from those who have trodden the path he intends to follow.
“Everything else is irrelevant without the mindset,” he added. “I have seen some of the best athletes in the world, physically, tactically lose their head in a fight or before a competition and it shows, they lose – it’s as simple as that.
“Taekwondo is not a game where if you are strong you win, it’s a game of points, you need everything. Without your mindset you can’t piece it together.
“It has helped me win fights with a very simple game because I have had the right mindset going into it.
“I like to spar with Bianca Cook, she is always good to work with; she kicks hard, she is fast and I love her work ethic so I enjoy sparring with her.
“Regardless of how the sparring goes, the main thing I have taken from Bianca is her mentality. It’s something that regardless of her medals, that is what I look up to her for.
“I aspire to have all her medals and more, but the harder thing is to get that mentality that leads to those medals.
“I speak to psychologists here, I do my own work at home. At the end of the day, no matter how good Bianca is, she are not me, I am not her so I can’t replicate what she does but I can find my own way to make sure I am in the best state of mind.
“The main thing for me is just enjoy it; the minute you don’t enjoy it, stop. It’s a tough sport to do and you will never be the best if you are doing it as a chore.
“Be brave, if there is somebody better than you, always go to kick them in the face because when they kick you back it’s just learning. There’s nothing to be scared of. If you are scared to get kicked you are in the wrong sport.”
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