TAEKWONDO star Lauren Williams has had to make more personal sacrifices than most in her quest to be the best.

And it’s something which reveals a great deal about the 20-year-old’s steely determination to make it to the top of her sport.

Born and raised in Blackwood, Williams began kickboxing when she was just four – by 14 she had reached the highest level possible.

Fortunately, GB Taekwondo actively seeks out talented martial artists with the potential to become Olympic champions via its Fighting Chance programme, an initiative funded by UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport.

The scheme, which targets candidates with “tactical and technical proficiency” as well as “an X-factor that separates you from the rest”, offered her a place on the Great Britain team.

Williams is now among more than 1,500 National Lottery-funded athletes on UK Sport’s World Class Programme, allowing them to train full-time and have access to world-class coaching and medical support.

“I started taekwondo when I was 14 after being inspired by Jade Jones at the 2012 Olympics,” she said. “My dad decided to apply for me to be part of the Fighting Chance Programme.”

She found her kickboxing background had prepared her well for taekwondo, the Korean martial art characterised by its emphasis on fast kicking. Her ‘X-factor’ was the intensity she had developed as a kickboxer.

“Bringing that intensity into taekwondo really does benefit me,” she added. “A lot of fighters are slow paced and very tactical. I’ve got a competitive edge – I just want to fight and I’m all about intensity.”

However, winning a place on the GB team presented a problem.

She was required to move to Manchester where the squad is based.

The financial cost of relocating was daunting for Williams and her parents, Allan and Tanya.

The solution was a touring caravan that became a home-away-from-home for mother and daughter.

“My dad stayed in Wales with my sister and my mum came to Manchester with me,” she said. “Mum had to give up her job for 18 months and we didn’t see my dad or my sister for quite a while.

“But that’s the kind of commitment they were willing to make and financially it was very difficult for the family. But they made it happen and it’s got me where I am today.”

Williams has repaid her family’s faith in spades. After becoming junior world champion in 2014 and 2016, she became a double European champion thanks to victories in 2016 and 2018.

When she won gold for Britain at the World Taekwondo Grand Slam finals in China in December 2018, she vowed to use the £54,000 cash prize to pay off her supportive parents’ mortgage.

She now has her sights fixed firmly on the Tokyo Olympics.

“The biggest thing for me is the chance to get an Olympic medal,” she added. “It’s what I want, and I’ll do anything I can to get it.”

Winning a place on the podium won’t be easy, however. Her -67kg weight class is hotly contested and “everyone’s a threat”.

“The more dominant nations are Asian countries, but the top 10 fighters in my group are from all over. I have to be on it on the day,” she said.

Williams and the rest of the GB Taekwondo squad train at the state-of-the-art National Taekwondo Centre in Newton Heath, Manchester.

The £2.7million facility, which opened in March 2016, was funded by The National Lottery via Sport England and UK Sport.

Since The National Lottery’s first draw took place in November 1994, more than £40billion has been raised for good causes in the areas of arts, sport, heritage and community.

Standing in the centre’s vast training hall, Williams describes the impact of lottery money on the sport as “incredible”.

She said: “The facilities we’re standing in now speak for themselves. When I came into the academy, we were training in a gym next door to an Asda. We had a mat and a little weights gym.

“To see how far we’ve come is incredible and that’s all through National Lottery funding.

“We wouldn’t have the facilities and the support services we have without it.”

Outside the sport, she loves nothing more than relaxing with family and going to the gym with friends and team-mates.

Her Instagram and YouTube channels give an amazing insight into her dedication to taekwondo and the love she has for those closest to her.