Double Olympic taekwondo medallist Lutalo Muhammad is aiming for gold at next summer’s Tokyo Games, but despite his huge success in the sport, he is quick to admit the going hasn’t always been easy during his career.
The Walthamstow-born star was introduced to the sport by his father as a three-year-old, and cites the influence of both his parents – as well as being inspired by watching taekwondo at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games on TV – as crucial on his journey to the top.
That, as well as the support he received from SportsAid as a teenager, which provided the now 28-year-old with vital funds to help him compete internationally. In addition, the motivational boost gained from recognition outside his inner circle, fuelled his determination to get to the highest level.
Now, as a member of the charity’s alumni, Lutalo admits there are many lessons he learnt during his journey to becoming a high-performance sports star which he hopes the current crop of supported athletes can use to help them achieve their potential.
“If I could go back to being 15 or 16, I would tell myself to be selective and make sure you have the right people around you. All success, even in individual sport, is down to a team effort and it’s crucial you’ve got the right people in your corner.
“In the ring I get all the credit, but people don’t see my coach, my nutritionist, my performance analyst or my parents. When I was younger, I was a bit naïve and thought it was all about me, but having people around you doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong.
“The best athletes in all sports always have people around them that they use and that they trust and depend on to help them accomplish their goals. Use the help that’s available, because you need those people if you really want to push and make that Olympic podium or be world champion.”
“There are so many external forces when you’re a professional athlete, and the more successful you are the more people you are going to meet outside of your inner circle who think they know how you should be doing things.
“What you have to learn as early as possible is what’s useful and what’s not. When things don’t go your way - you lose a big tournament, you don’t qualify, or you get injured - the best thing you can do is to listen to yourself because 99 times out of 100, you know what the answer is.
“Focus on what you can control. You have to make the decision to give yourself the best chance in any given situation, and I find that’s what keeps me focused and keeps me happy. The second you put other people’s opinions above yours is the second that you give your power away.”
“Injuries are the worst part of being a professional athlete but unfortunately for the most part they are unavoidable. You’re not going to be able to push your body to the maximum without some strains and tears over the years, especially the longer you do it.
“Being injured can be a real test, but one of the things that has consistently helped me throughout my career, and probably the reason I’ve usually got a smile on my face, is that I do my best to focus on what I can control.
“I was struggling with a knee injury going into the 2016 Olympics. There was definitely a point when people thought I wasn’t going to make it and it can be easy to get into a rut – which is a normal human reaction – but you just have to do what’s possible.
“I came home from Rio with a medal, which shows it’s still possible to be successful even when you think it might not be.”
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