I took up taekwondo at the age of 18, when I went to university, as a way of keeping in shape. At the time, I was going out with someone who was a black belt in karate, and a few of us got together for regular sparring sessions, which were friendly, rather than competitive.
That’s the good thing about taekwondo: you score points without hurting people. Also, you wear a lot of padding and protective gear: helmets, chest pads, foot pads. What’s not so good is that there are all these different styles and federations, and when I left university and came back to London, I couldn’t find the federation that oversaw the style I had learnt. End of taekwondo career, aged 20.
Mind you, my best sporting days were already behind me. At primary school I played netball and hockey, and was a sprinter and hurdler, too, but then I stopped growing (I’m still only 5ft 1in). Sport became harder for me, because I couldn’t compete when it came to size and weight.
From my own experiences, I have some idea of how much dedication is required if you want to be the best. I’ve met quite a few Olympic athletes, and basically they have to give up their social lives. Early nights are obligatory – some athletes won’t have seen midnight for the past four years.