AFTER his blistering year in an attempt to secure an Olympic Berth for Ireland, Jack Woolley, 17, of local South Dublin Taekwondo Club, could not have got any closer.
The youngster travelled to Istanbul, Turkey with his club and country Coach Robert Taaffe with one goal, securing at least second place silver medal to ensure he took some of the final 16 places remaining for the upcoming Rio Olympics.
There were just two places remaining in his chosen -58kg division where only a spot in the final would clinch the place.
Jack who usually fights the lighter weight of -54kg had to move up to -58kg as the Olympic categories skip every other weight.
This mean his division was populated with -54kg athletes, -58kg athletes and also -63kg athletes who cut weight down to their chosen Olympic weight.
After his superb efforts at ranking point events last year, Jack was seeded 6th for the event, ‘exactly where we wanted to be’, noted his Coach Taaffe.
This 6th seed position meant at first Jack was on the left-hand side of the draw, and could only meet the 1st place favourite from Spain in the final.
His first round was then pre-determined to be against the 11th seed, a likely second round against the 3rd seed and finally the all-important match the semi-final was likely against the 2nd seed if all went to usual seeding statistics.
In the round of 16 Jack faced off against current -21 European Bronze Medallist Aliu Egers of Albania in his first outing which he won comfortably 15-5.
This lead to a head to head against the current European Champion and Seed no. 3 Stepan Dimitrov of Moldova which proved to be a nail biting affair throughout, with Woolley holding off a late tirade from his opponent winning 10-7.
With all eyes on the bottom half of the draw, the Irish duo anticipated an outing against the 2nd Seed from France, but he was dramatically beaten be Israeli Ron Atias leading to the all-important semi-final match with Woolley to clinch the ticket to Rio.
The Israeli came out all guns blazing and bullied Jack throughout the first round where the score was 3-2 to Israel with one round gone.
After a quick break and tactical adjustment Jack regained his lead and came in from the 2nd round winning 6-5 going into the final round. With 10 seconds to go in the bout jack was winning and was within touching distance of a ticket, however his opponent was awarded 3 points by the corner judges for a ‘face kick’ not detected by the electronic head gears, leaving the final score 12-10 to Israel.
Jacks dream was over and the 17-year-old broke down in tears with only his coach to support him out of the ring.
Whilst this was without doubt the most heartaching moment anyone could experience at this level in taekwondo, both player and coach are looking on the bright side and what has been achieved by Jack.
Coach Taaffe summarised: “4 years ago when athletes started their attempt to go to Rio, Jack was just 13, he had not yet established himself in any substantial way on the international circuit and he was a happy-go-lucky young lad.
However, in the past few years his ability has started to shine through in abundance internationally, which led us to make the decision to put him forward for a last-gasp points hunt for senior Olympic ranking throughout 2015, even though he was only 16, which he did in astonishing fashion.
“Jack is now both revered and feared on the international circuit. Nobody wants to draw him. In the past year he has beaten the world No 3, world No 6, European Champions, Grand Prix Fighters and put himself on the international taekwondo map. What he did in the past year and in Istanbul was incredible. One year ago he never had a senior match before.
“Now he is ranked 14th in the World. He is still going to the Olympics, just not Rio as a newcomer and perhaps underdog, I am confident he will go to Tokyo as one of the favourites.
“In four year’s time we won’t need to go to the qualification tournament, the plan is for Jack to finish in the top 6 in the Olympic rankings, securing him an auto-qualify place.
"As a coach, I could not be prouder of his efforts, and the inspiration he is giving to his up and coming teammates and followers is a win in itself."
Jack’s conqueror from Israel went on to win the first-place medal, beating the first-place seed from Spain which added to the unexpected performance of the little-known Israeli.
Jack noted on his social media site, “Day of mixed emotions! My dream of Rio 2016 was taken from me but I was given experience, confidence, incentive and a bronze at the Olympic qualifications!
"After beating Albania ( 15-5 ) and Moldova ( 10-7 ) I was into the most important match of my life vs ISR but unfortunately it wasn’t to be and I bowed out in the semis (10-12), devastated is an understatement, but I have to bounce back from this and smash some more ranking comps and in three years and auto qualify for the Tokyo 2020 olympics simple as.
"Thanks to everyone for all the support it really means a lot, lets do this.”
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