Jack Woolley isn’t set to rest on his laurels, despite becoming the first Irish person in Taekwando to qualify for the Olympics.
The Jobstown man became Ireland’s newest Olympian just before Christmas, after placing in the top-six in the world to book a ticket for Tokyo this summer.
However, he is keen to keep up his involvement in international competition and will travel to Sweden shortly for an event.
It’s stark contrast to just four years previously when, as a 17-year old, Woolley had history in his sights.
He agonisingly missed out on a place at the Rio Olympics in 2016, and this was the driver that fueled him to make sure he would secure Olympic qualfiication this time around.
“As a sportsperson, when you start off a sport everyone has a goal,” he told Dublin Gazette.
“If you play GAA you want to be on your county team – you’ve got certain goals. Since I was young, I wanted to go to the Olympics. I trained when I was younger and realised I was good enough and I had the potential to do well.
“I started off my senior career pretty strong; I tried to qualify for the last Olympics and got bronze at the qualifiers but I had to get gold or silver.
“It was heart-breaking but it kind of pushed me to work hard for four years, not to be in that position again to have to go to the qualification.
“The top six countries in the Olympic rankings qualify automatically and they don’t have to go their continentals. Luckily, I’ve got into the top-six this time. I’ve worked hard for four years and did everything I could points wise.
“I skipped some competitions because, mathematically, it might have worked better in my favour for other competitions. I’m top-six now.
“I’m proud but I’m more relieved than anything that I don’t have to go through that horrible heartbreak – not that it was going to be heartbreak, but I don’t want to be in that situation I was in four years ago. I’m pretty happy now.”
While qualification has been secured, Woolley knows that in order to keep him in contention for medal placings he has to keep up the momentum in training.
“We’ve got a good seven months to train hard and look at who our opponents could possibly be for the Olympics, and just focus on them, rather than having to focus on a group of Europeans, and beat them,” he said.
“Things have changed a little bit in the past few weeks. We found out I qualified two weeks ago.
“I never get a holiday, I never get time off. In 2019, I went to 17 International competitions, which is a lot for any international sports person sometimes going to two or three different continents.
“I have taken a little bit of a break for the last few weeks which was well needed. The camp was just to top things back up and make sure that I didn’t just completely fall off the bandwagon. It kind of keeps me a bit on track.”
The sport is a tough one, not just in terms of fights, but also in preparations, where making your weight is key.
It can be a physical struggle at times, with many teenagers in the sport suffering as a result, with anorexia a documented issue. Jack says he has a good team behind him who keep him right.
“It’s a very weight oriented sport. It’s very focussed on weight. The Olympic categories are 58, 68, 80 kg’s. There’s nothing in between; 10kg for a sportsperson is a massive jump. It’s incredibly large.
“Usually I would have to focus on it. I fight 58kg now which is a lot healthier for myself. I don’t have to cut too much weight.
“I’ll probably cut from 61. The fact I’m constantly fighting. I’m fighting in 17 competitions a year – it’s every two weeks, so I can’t take my foot off the pedal.
“I can go back up to 61 and then, in a week, get back down to 58. Whereas if I was to not train, or not having these constant competitions of always having to make weight, I think I would fall a bit off, and I wouldn’t be as strict on myself.
“Because of the competitions it keeps me focussed and keeps me on weight as much as possible. I have a team out in Sport Ireland who really focus on a lot of different things. S&C, psychology, nutrition etc. We work together as a team and keep everything as steady as possible.”
Woolley is in good company, with the rest of Ireland’s Olympic hopefuls at the Sport Ireland Campus in Abbotstown, Dublin; where they have access to strength and conditioning coaches, top dieticians and other supports.
As Ireland’s first ever Grand Prix Taekwando athlete, Woolley certainly is flying the flag high for the sport and will no doubt do Ireland proud in Japan, where an Olympic medal is a realistic prospect.
And he may not be alone in Rio. Grace Park Road’s Conor Grassick is also in contention to make the Olympics in the sport, with the North Dublin 26-year old unlucky not to have qualified for games in London in 2012.