JADE Jones winning gold at London 2012 was the catalyst for Lauren Williams to take up taekwondo, and nearly a decade on it’s her own Olympic success that is inspiring the next generation of fighters.

The 22-year-old from Blackwood won a silver medal on her Games debut in Tokyo, although she came so close to following in the footsteps of fellow Welsh star Jones by claiming the top prize.

Williams is “devastated” she didn’t see out her final against Croatia’s Matea Jelic after holding a three-point lead with 10 seconds of the welterweight showdown remaining.

And while proud of what she achieved in Japan, Williams will not be satisfied until that gold medal is around her neck, with the focus already on putting things right at Paris 2024.

While still rueing that “heart-breaking” defeat to Jelic, Williams is honoured to now be in a position where she can inspire ambitious youngsters who would love to emulate her fighting feats.

After a relatively low-key homecoming which involved a cup of tea at her parents’ house, Williams took part in I Am Team GB’s Festival of Sport event at Better Western Leisure Centre in Cardiff.

Meeting members of the centre’s taekwondo club showed Williams the effect her accomplishment, and those of the other Team GB fighters in Tokyo, have had on the British public.

“To have that reception in Cardiff was a bit of a shock,” she said. “It’s the first time I’d seen the impact of the Games.

“I did a Q&A, shared my experiences and took some photos with people, and I was told two of the youngsters had signed up for the Fighting Chance programme.


"If someone had told me that two years ago that would be happening off the back of me winning a medal at the Olympics, I wouldn’t have believed it.

“The Games has had a massive impact and raised the profile of sports like taekwondo.

"I was that young girl who watched the sport in 2012 and had no idea what it was, and now we’re seeing people giving it a go after watching me and the other British fighters.

"I’d like to think I’m in that position where I can inspire, even if it’s only one person trying it.

“The impact it has had across the UK, it’s amazing to think you’re passing it on to a younger generation to take it up.”

While she can’t help but think what might have been in Tokyo, when you consider how much her build-up was disrupted, coming as close to gold as she did is all the more impressive.

She said: “My preparation was pretty awful. Six weeks out from the Games I tore my hamstring and then a week before I was due to go out, I got notified I was a close contact of someone with Covid and had to isolate.

"Team GB put on an incredible preparation camp, they really did pull out all the stops, but I had to join later than everyone else.

“The couple of days before I fought and the day of the competition were the best of my life. I was smiling from start to finish.

"Fight day itself was incredible, and I was winning the final with 10 seconds left. I was leading quite comfortably but she started to close the gap.

“There are many situations where fighters have pulled it back near the end and, unfortunately, I was on the wrong end of it, but I know I’m capable of winning the gold.

“I can always sit and say, ‘I could have done this’ or ‘ I could have done that’, but I didn’t. In that situation you always do the best you can. You always think you’re making the best decision to win.

"Unfortunately, it doesn’t always go your way. One thing I maybe shouldn’t have done is play my challenge card when I did because it gave her time to rest.

“You go over the situation hundreds of times and never know what would have happened if I hadn’t played it.”

She added: “I’m devastated, although I’m still really proud, second is a big achievement.

“My dream is to win an Olympic gold medal, and you don’t come much closer than that. The fact I had it and then lost it is heart-breaking.

"I have to put on a brave face and accept it, but I’ve always had my heart set on a gold medal, and until I get that I won’t be happy.

"I’m already thinking about winning gold in Paris and I’m going to do my absolute best to get it.

“I would say I competed at 50-70% of what I’m capable of in Tokyo, so if I stay free of injury over the next few years then there is much more I can give.”

Williams has dedicated the silver from Tokyo to her family, who played such an important part in the former kickboxer’s journey to Olympic medallist.

After Williams joined the GB Taekwondo academy as a 14-year-old, mum Tanya quit her job and moved north with her daughter so the youngster could attend training sessions in Manchester.

With dad Allan and younger sister Kirstie at home in Blackwood, Williams and her mum resided in a caravan for 18 months until the teenager was old enough to live in athletes’ accommodation.

“I think my parents celebrated more than me,” said Williams. “The medal is for my family. They have all made sacrifices to get me to where I am.”