Having claimed silver and bronze in his two Olympic appearances to date, Walthamstow’s Lutalo Muhammad admits he is already dreaming of completing the set with gold in Tokyo next summer. The 28-year-old taekwondo star - who finished third at London 2012 and second at Rio 2016 - has suffered with a string of injuries in recent times that cost him a place at this year’s World Championships.
But Lutalo’s first title in nearly four years - in the French Open heavyweight final - has given him renewed belief that he can claim Great Britain’s solitary Olympic place, and battle all the way to glory in Japan. With victory over World Championships runner-up Carlos Sansores and London 2012 silver medallist Anthony Obame in Paris, he believes the so-far elusive Olympic gold medal is well within his grasp.
“I can’t describe how amazing it would be - after the bronze and silver - to come home with a gold medal,” said Lutalo. “It would be a dream come true. The result in France was a massive result for me going into Tokyo 2020. It was a big statement and the kind I want to continue to make.
“It was a hard road to come back from certain injuries in recent times, so to be back flying now gives me massive confidence for next year and I couldn’t be more excited. I know if I carry on performing at my best that the Olympic gold medal is a reality. I’ve just got to keep going, keep focused and trust the great work we’ve been doing.”
Lutalo was speaking at the ceremony for SportsAid’s prestigious One-to-Watch Award, which recognises the achievements of the best up-and-coming sporting talent in the UK. Among the 10 shortlisted athletes was 17-year-old taekwondo World Championship medallist Aaliyah Powell, and Lutalo looks back fondly on the time when he was supported by the charity.
“I have a big history with SportsAid. They were the first people outside of my family and friends, not only to believe in me, but to give me a cheque, an endorsement, that really gave me a massive boost. I even remember when it came in the mail, so to think back to all those memories just before I broke through, to having an organisation like SportsAid believe in me to where I am now, it’s very, very surreal and I’m honoured to be in great company amongst many SportsAid alumni and ambassadors.
Lutalo is buoyed by the rise he has seen in his sport's popularity throughout his career. With a diverse range of sports being represented on the shortlist for this year’s One-to-Watch Award, he believes the future of British sport is encouraging ahead of next summer’s Games, and beyond.
He said: “It’s amazing to see how taekwondo has grown since London 2012 and there’s never been a better time to be involved in the sport. I remember before my first Olympics not many people I spoke to knew what my sport was, but with the likes of Bianca Walkden and Jade Jones being so successful, we’ve seen the British public really get behind the sport.
“To see Aaliyah and the nine other athletes nominated shows the future of taekwondo and British sport in general is bright and it’s a pleasure to see. All of their stories have been absolutely inspirational. It gives me the butterflies and the buzz seeing them compete, seeing them all do so well, and it makes me really happy because it tells us that the future of British sport is very, very bright.
“We took it to another level in London, and we took it even further in Rio, so the goal for Tokyo is to do the same again so hopefully that buzz and that energy to always do more and succeed even more will hopefully reverberate and carry on to these youngsters. Some of them have really big boots to fill but they’re more than up to the task from what I’ve seen today. You always do think about what’s coming next, who’s going to be the next generation of great stars, and I think we’ve definitely see some of them tonight.”
SportsAid’s prestigious One-to-Watch Award was presented at the charity’s Celebrate the Next event, sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada, in London. Please visit www.sportsaid.org.uk for further information.