Matthew Kitchen, NBC Olympics
There’s already enough pressure for athletes to compete at their highest level during the Olympics, and that pressure’s only ramped up in front of friends, family, and compatriots at a hometown Games. Now imagine no one thinks you deserve to be there.
That’s the reality facing Lutalo Muhammad, the 104-ranked -80kg taekwondo fighter who recently took a spot on the British team most believe was reserved for top-ranked fighter Aaron Cook. If you haven’t followed the saga: Muhammad was controversially selected by a Team GB selection panel three different times as Cook appealed to a higher power in each instance, unsuccessfully and with very little explanation. Most think it’s political, others simply unfair, but for Muhammad it means he has to win or become a pariah in his own backyard.
The 21-year-old fighter has already received hate mail that he refuses to share or repeat, but it’s pretty tough to intimidate a guy who beats people up for a living. Muhammad told BBC Sport that he can’t wait to prove the selection committee right by winning.
“A lot of people didn’t appreciate that I had a good European Championships,” the fighter added. “If I perform to the best of my ability I have a very good chance of getting that gold medal for Team GB in London.”
Muhammad said Tuesday that he’s open to fight Cook for the spot, and believes he’d win like he did in Berlin last year, but it likely won’t come to that after the World Taekwondo Federation ratified Team GB’s decision last week. Instead, it’s time for Muhammad to prepare for Olympic opponents like Athens gold medalist Steven Lopez, which is music to the young man’s ears.
“Unfortunately with the nature of sport there are always going to be winners and losers,” Muhammad said. “I wish him all the best for his future, but my focus right now is not Aaron Cook, it’s a gold medal in London.”
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.