Woolley has it there for the Taek’-ing

By Stephen Leonard

A STUNNING year for South Dublin Taekwondo competitor Jack Woolley culminated in him being declared The Echo 2015 Sports Star of the Year at the annual gala night held in the Green Isle Hotel on Thursday.

Since the start of 2015, the 17-year-old Tallaght lad has gone from being unseeded to 14th in world taekwondo as he edges ever close towards fulfilling his dream of representing Ireland at the Olympic Games.

Jack Woolley Echo Sports Awards officicla picture resized

He turned heads early this year by taking bronze at the prestigious US Open before going one better at the Spanish equivalent.

A fifth place finish in the WTF Senior World Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia was followed up by a tremendous run in September when he won bronze in the Polish Open, silver in Israel and -his crowning moment- gold in the massively competitive Russian Open.

This was followed up with silver in the European Junior Championships, gold in the Moroccan Open and, only the day after scooping The Echo Sports Star of the Year title, he was back on a plane to contest the Cyprus International Taekwondo Tournament winning gold and beating some very strong Israeli national team fighters Nimrod Krivitsky and Hillel Zari.

His triumph at the The Echo Awards earned a raptuorous reception and speaking awards, a stunned Woolley said “I was shocked but over the moon.

“I never expected to win especially when I was up against some really strong competition. I was shaking up there on the stage.

Jack Woolley Russia 2 resized

“But obviously it was great to be recognised for all the hard work I've put in this year.

“It's also a nice reward for everyone who has helped to get me where I am now. It's like their efforts have been recognised too.”

Looking back on the past 12 months, Woolley added “I started off this year at zero in the senior rankings as I'm still only a junior player.

“I only entered the senior division at the US Open to see what happened. When I made the podium though we realised [himself and coach Robert Taaffe] that maybe it wasn't entirely impossible to make it to Rio and, whatever happened, every point I could get would bring me closer to Tokyo 2020 which was the more realistic goal.

“A lot of sacrifices were made so I could travel and compete to build up my world and Olympic ranking points from nothing to now being 14th in -54kg Senior world rankings and 39th in -58kg Olympic rankings.

“I still can't believe how far I've come in less than a year but I've never really thought about it until now as I've just been caught up in the momentum of competition and getting seeded.

“The biggest highlights for me this year were making the quarter finals of the World Championships.

“Although I didn't medal, the achievement of me, at only 16, beating so many high profile senior players was huge.

“No other Irish fighter has ever managed to even win one match at this tournament and I won three in a row and just missed out making the podium.

“Also winning my first ever senior gold in the Russian Open was unbelievable. Plus I got the title of most aggressive fighter of the tournament because of my high scores” the Tallaght lad pointed out.

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