Janine Watson, from Warner, will make history at the Paralympic Games (August 24-September 5) in Tokyo.
The 40-year-old will be the first Australian to compete in Para Taekwondo, which makes its debut in the second week of competition in Japan.
A team of three was selected, but two have pulled out, leaving Watson, who admitted she was “a little bit of a trailblazer”.
“I’m humbled and honoured to have the chance,” the three-time world champion said, “but I was looking forward to going with a team.”
Watson, who has multiple sclerosis, will have to adapt in Tokyo where the Para Taekwondo discipline of Kyorugi (full contact sparring) is used.
“My world championships were in Poomsae (Patterns),” she told Paralympics Australia.
“In Kyorugi I was only classified at the end of 2018 when they expanded the classification to include people with neurological impairments. Before that I was competing against able-bodied athletes.
“At the end of 2018, I was told to get my butt to Korea within two weeks to get classified.
“So I did a whirlwind week of fight training, flew over to Korea, got classified and won a bronze medal at the Korean Open. Since then I’ve been consistently winning medals.”
Watson moved from Currumbin to Albany Creek three years ago and was Head of Maths and Science at Brisbane State High School before being medically retired in 2019.
That has given more time for Taekwondo and Watson is world ranked eight, but has victories over the world numbers two, three, four, five and six, to her credit.
Also excelling at wheelchair tennis, Watson was selected for the Tokyo Test Event in 2019 which gave her the advantage of knowing the venue and conditions.
However, the Paralympian says she is the “underdog” in Japan and under no pressure to win a medal.
“I think I fight best in that role,” she said, adding success in Tokyo would be “just getting Para-taekwondo out into the community.
“I want to show people what we can do and how amazing the sport is. If I come home with a medal, then that’s even better,” she told Paralympics Australia.
“A lot of people ask me ‘Am I excited?’ But my approach is to focus on day-by-day. If I improve on what I do today, I then focus on the next day.
“Before I know it, I’ll be there competing in Tokyo. So, it’s sort of conserving my emotion until the eventual day.”
Watson paid tribute to Australian Taekwondo, the Queensland Academy of Sport (AIS) and her coach Ben Hartmann.
“Ben’s essentially been my kick bag for the last 18 months,” she said, “If you actually see how I kick, I don’t know how his ribs survive!
“He’s been the biggest support, he goes above and beyond what any coach would ever do.”
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