Brit-at-heart Cook striving for Olympic glory at Tokyo 2020 as taekwondo makes its return

·4-min read
Children and adults alike are looking to return to taekwondo

Brit-at-heart Aaron Cook insists winning Olympic gold in his adopted Moldovan colours would feel just as special as being crowned champion for Team GB.

Taekwondo ace Cook, the long-term boyfriend of three-time world champion and fellow Tokyo hopeful Bianca Walkden, was controversially left out of the British team for London 2012.

A breakdown in relations saw him switch allegiance to the Isle of Man before in 2015, he gained Moldovan citizenship after an approach from billionaire taekwondo supremo Igor Iuzefovici.

Dorchester-born Cook has claimed two World Championship medals under his new country’s blue, yellow and red tricolour and is now gearing up for another crack at the Olympics after suffering last 16 elimination in 2016.

He’s gunning for gold in his -80kg category and says scaling the Tokyo heights under his new nationality would not devalue his achievement.

Asked if winning gold for Moldova would mean as much as doing so in Team GB colours, the defiant 30-year-old said: “Definitely. It’s been a lifetime’s journey. It would be a lifetime’s ambition and a dream accomplished.

“I always have been [British at heart]. Competing for Moldova has definitely come with its challenges, but my focus is just trying to get to that Olympic Games, win gold and it will all be for myself. 

“Obviously, I would have loved to have the British flag behind me, but in my heart, I’m obviously still British. 

“I’ve got to thank Moldova for being there and giving me that opportunity to finish my career at these big events. 

“I’ll be holding both those flags, hopefully – and it will be special if I can make it happen.”

Cook plans to retire after Tokyo following a highly successful – albeit hugely turbulent – taekwondo career.

He represented Team GB in Beijing in 2008 but narrowly missed out on a medal after going down to Zhu Guo in the third-fourth place-play off.

Cook twice soared to European Championship glory under the Union Jack before that 2012 selection heartache turned his career on its head.

He became a three-time European champion while competing for the Isle of Man in 2014 before gaining Moldovan citizenship the following year ahead of the 2016 Olympics.

Cook succumbed to a premature exit in Brazil and with a crucial Tokyo qualifier now looming, insists he isn’t getting carried away ahead of his tilt at Japan this summer.

“There are so many things that I need to put in place before that dream,” he added.

“I’m just trying to tick off everything that I can do in training and trying to improve as much as I can.

“Obviously, I’ve got qualifications to do first, so there is still a long way to go yet before I can realise that. 

“I’m just enjoying these last couple of months of my career and making sure I’m putting everything I can into it. Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen.”

Cook’s training has suffered minimal impact during the pandemic thanks to living and breathing taekwondo alongside Walkden – his girlfriend for 14 years – and Olympic champion Jade Jones in Manchester.

Not many couples are able to physically duke it out on a daily basis but Cook and Walkden revel in their distinctive relationship and intensive regime.

Both remain acutely aware of the broader impact of lockdown on their sport, however, with many taekwondo clubs across the country deprived of being able to nurture young talent.

The decorated pair are urging children to get back on the mat when restrictions ease owing to the multiple benefits of taekwondo – including character-building, respect, physical fun, aiding mental health and in combating bullying.

“My goal is obviously to get to the Olympics and win gold, but obviously to help Bianca achieve her goals of winning that as well,” he added.

“I hope [I can get out to Tokyo] – if Bianca has to be stuck in a hotel for two weeks prior to the Games with the quarantine, she’s going to need a training partner! 

“Depending on how my qualification goes, hopefully I’ll be there anyway, but if not, I’ll definitely try and be there for her as a training partner.

“I’m just focusing on my qualification. I have to get to the final and be top two in the next competition to get to the Olympics – and I hope I can do it.”

PLEASE LEAVE IN FINAL PAR – With the easing of lockdown restrictions, Taekwondo clubs the breadth of the country are re-opening and welcoming participants old and new. To find your local club visit: