Doncaster’s Sarah Stevenson, Britain’s most successful ever taekwondo player, has today announced her retirement.
But the four time Olympian and twice senior world champion won’t be leaving the sport.
Stevenson, aged 30, who fought for the final time at London 2012, has earned a coaching role on Britain’s World Class Performance programme.
Speaking at the Great Britain Academy, based in Manchester, Stevenson said:”I am relieved I’ve finally been able to make the announcement.
“I’ve known in my heart it’s what I have wanted to do for a while. But I held off in case I missed competition and wanted to go back.
“I felt this way after Beijing 2008 and thought ‘I am going to stop.’ When I did, I missed it so I didn’t want to make the same mistake again.
“However, this time I didn’t miss it and I am glad I don’t have to fight again. I have done enough and didn’t want to put my body through anymore.”
Stevenson, still the reigning world champion at -67kg, has almost single handedly raised the profile of taekwondo, becoming a trail blazer for the likes of Olympic champion, Jade Jones, and London 2012 bronze medallist, Lutalo Muhammad.
“I’ve had a very tough couple of years, losing my mum and dad, and then suffering my knee injury last year,” she explained.
“But there have been plenty of highs and plenty of firsts. Becoming senior world champion at 18 was a stepping stone for our sport to enable us to start getting funding.
“Winning the first Olympic medal for taekwondo in Beijing was another big one.
“And then to top it off, becoming world champion again in 2011 through such traumatic circumstances, was very special.”
With such a wealth of experience to call upon, Stevenson was an obvious candidate to be considered for a position on the GB coaching staff.
“I am excited to finally say I am retiring but it doesn’t mean I have lost my love for the sport,” she explained.
“I haven’t lost my determination to be the best and to win. So, I am delighted I have been accepted onto the coaching team so I can help put that into the athletes we have now and the next generation.”
GB Performance Director Gary Hall actually believed Stevenson could have become a five-time Olympian in Rio.
“Sarah is a big stage deliverer and in her weight group and ability I thought she could have made it to 2016.
“But she made a decision for her reasons and I massively respect that.
“Not many people do make the right decision and perhaps carry on too long.
“Sarah has an absolutely fantastic career and been the most successful athlete Britain has ever produced
“Sarah will still have to work really hard to make a success of her coaching. But she has the characteristics we were looking for in a coach and we believe she will make an excellent one.”
British Olympic Association chairman Lord Sebastian Coe congratulated Sarah Stevenson.
“As Britain’s first-ever World Champion and Olympic medallist in taekwondo, Sarah Stevenson has been a trailblazer for her sport, in the UK and globally,” he said.
“Her pursuit of excellence has been tireless and she reached the pinnacle of her sport through dedication and sacrifice.
“Sarah overcame personal heartbreak and serious injury to secure a place with Team GB last summer. Recognition of her outstanding contribution to British sport came at the Games in London when she was selected to read the Olympic Oath on behalf of her fellow competitors at the Opening Ceremony.
“We wish Sarah the very best for continued success as a taekwondo coach and we thank her for her commitment to Team GB and the Olympic Movement.”
UK Sport Chief Executive Liz Nicholl said: “Over the past decade, Sarah has been a truly exceptional figure in British Olympic sport. Having won Great Britain’s first Olympic taekwondo medal in Beijing, she paved the way for the success the sport has enjoyed since.
“Throughout her career Sarah has competed and won at the very highest level, often in the face of adversity, and has demonstrated remarkable determination and resilience.
“At UK Sport we are extremely proud to have supported Sarah throughout her career, as one of the longest serving members of the National Lottery funded World Class Performance Programme. We now wish Sarah all the very best with her future life and career.”
Adrian Tranter, President of British Taekwondo, said:”We have been blessed with a true Taekwondo athlete that has been a joy to watch in action. We all know she will give the same commitment, single mindedness and ultra professionalism to her new role as coach as she did out on the mat.
“Our new generation of talented athletes will now have an asset at their disposal that is truly world class in every aspect.”
Jeremy Beard, Chairman of British Taekwondo, added:”Sarah Stevenson – a phenomenal athlete and human being. Whilst her success at the 2011 World Championships was incredible in the circumstances, her performances since her first World title in 2001, including being a triple European Champion and Olympic bronze medallist, have done more for the sport of taekwondo than we can dare to imagine.”
SARAH STEVENSON MBE FACT FILE
HONOURS: 1998: World Junior champion; 1999: European Junior champion; 2000: Sydney Olympics, 4th; 2001: World Senior champion; 2002 and 2004: European silver medallist; 2004: Athens Olympics; 2005: World silver medallist; 2005 and 2006: European gold medallist; 2008: Beijing Olympic bronze medallist; 2010: European gold medallist; 2011: World gold medallist; 2011: Received MBE; Sunday Times female athlete of the year; 2012: London Olympics; read Olympic Oath on behalf of athletes.
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