Lutalo Muhammad: British Taekwondo athlete on online trolling and beacon of hope the Olympics can provide

Lutalo Muhammad looks forward to the Olympics this summer with infectious confidence that he will again make the British Taekwondo team and complete the set of Olympic medals.

He won bronze at London 2012 and silver in Rio but that silver is tinged in heartbreak, life lessons and online trolling. Having received death threats for just being picked for the London Games, Rio brought him a whole new world of pain.

He was winning the final until the last second, when a head kick from his opponent changed his certain gold to silver in a heartbeat.

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Cue tears and inevitable abuse. As a Black athlete, this is something he’s grown up with all his life.

“We still have a long way to go but I’m glad racism and the effect of racism is at the forefront of people’s minds right now,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a trend.

“Every day if you are in a supermarket and someone pulls their handbag away, that’s racism because there’s a preconceived notion that I’m going to steal their stuff. I received racism then [2016] and I receive it now.”

But he admits that his Zimbabwean parents suffered a lot more than he has.

‘It’s very difficult as a Black person to even try and understand why someone would treat you differently or call you something over something outside your control – no one chooses what colour they are.”

As a double Olympian preparing for a postponed Games in a lockdown, rather than feeling frustration, he views the year as a blessing.

Having returned home to London from British Taekwondo’s base in Manchester he trained again under his Taekwondo coach father Wayne, just like he did when he was young.

Muhammad said: “It was amazing going back to my roots, training with my dad everyday and relearning secrets and tips that took me to the top in the first place, so I was able to extract so many positives from that lockdown period.

“Being at home for all those months, training with my pops, my man, training with the old G, that’s Master Muhammad to you, only I can call him that!”

Muhammad has had his fair share of injuries this Olympic cycle and is in competition with Mahama Cho for the one spot on the British team in the 80kg weight category, but he is convinced it’s his destiny to win gold at a Games that will hold special significance after the Covid pandemic.

“I think the Olympics can act as a beacon of hope,” he added. “People around the world can draw inspiration from seeing their athletes do their best and I think we’ll have more eyes on this Olympics than any Olympics previously.”

It took him a while to get over the disappointment of not winning last time but now when he talks about the moment which reduced him to tears on national television it’s only about the good that came from it.

“Every second counts is what I’ve learnt from that. When you can lose by such a fine margin and the difference between eternal glory and defeat was so fine it shows that every rep counts, every kick counts, every punch counts, every recovery counts, every training counts.

“It was a hard lesson to learn but it’s made me a better man and athlete. My whole life I wanted to be Olympic champion. I never thought about much else.

“It was a goal set by me and my father 21 years ago and coming so close to having it in reach, being able to taste it, to have it snatched away it hurt so much at the time. The aftermath taught me that although I thought it was all I needed in life I realised I didn’t need it to be happy. I want to be Olympic champion but if doesn’t happen I’m ok with that.”

He says he’s also proud that the man who pipped him to the gold in Rio, his friend, Cheick Sallah Cisse from Ivory Coast, went on to inspire kids all over Africa to take up the sport.

Ironically, the last-second loss in Rio has made him more of a personality and brought more sponsorship than if he had finished on top of the podium: “When someone is going through the agonising feeling of defeat in front of the whole world it’s something we can all tap into and draw inspiration from.

“Failure hurts but if you get up and keep going and try again you aren’t a failure – you’re a winner.”

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