LONDON, April 2 — With each guttural roar and every shuddering kick delivered by Aaron Cook to a punch bag in a dimly lit east London warehouse one could only pity anyone standing in the way of the British taekwondo champion at this year's London Olympics.
Cook was only going through the motions during the filming of a children's television programme but the intensity he brought to the occasion had the various PR executives, TV producers and cameramen wincing.
Full contact taekwondo is not for the faint-hearted and despite his genial manner during a break in filming, it was clear that Cook is on a mission to make up for the bitter disappointment of four years ago in Beijing when he was controversially denied a chance of a gold medal.
Then, aged 17, he fought favourite Mauro Sarmiento in the 80kg semi-final and with seconds remaining and the bout hanging in the balance both fighters delivered kicks to the head.
Cook thought he had won but the judges ruled against him, reducing the teenager to tears. Italian Sarmiento lost to Iran's Hadi Saei in the gold medal round while Cook took part in a ferocious bronze match against China's Zhu Guo.
The Briton again appeared to have legitimate point-scoring shots overlooked as a medal eluded him.
It is still a painful memory, but a battle-hardened Cook's focus now is only on qualifying for the British team and then winning gold in London.
“Obviously I was bitterly disappointed not to have medalled in Beijing and you have to go through a healing process after such a major event in your life is finished,” Cook, who split with the British team last year after an early defeat at the world championships before rejoining recently, told Reuters.
“It's always hard to swallow when you don't get what you want, but it's even harder in a sport where your destiny is not 100 per cent in your own hands and you've just come away from your first Olympics without a medal.
“I was upset, but like with all things in life time is a healer and as you get older you learn to deal and cope with things differently than when you're a distraught 17-year old!”
Cook, who took up taekwondo because of his love of TV programme Power Rangers and who spends his time at home kicking the stuffing out of life-size mannequins called Bob in a purpose-built shed, won the recent London 2010 test event and also took the titles at the Dutch and US Opens.
He cannot focus on London yet, however, as he still must perform well in trying to defend his title at the European Championships in Manchester in May to guarantee his slot.
His decision to rejoin the British Taekwondo squad after going it alone will enhance his chances of success.
“There are so many obstacles to overcome before you even get selected to go to an Olympics,” he said. “I still won't know if I've ticked all the boxes to go to London until late May.”
Cook had taken the bold decision last year to train independently with brother Luke among his team.
“Luke's actually been there since the beginning of my taekwondo career,” Cook said. “We used to watch Power Rangers on television and then practise on each other so my mum took us along to a taekwondo club.
“My brother and I are always fighting and messing with one another, even now when I'm 21 and he's 22! But it's never full on trying to hurt one another.”
Assuming he qualifies, Cook's biggest fear is that his dream could again disappear because of a judges scorecard or a moment's lack of concentration, such is the nature of the sport.
“There were a lot of judging errors (in Beijing),” he said. “It took a while to get over coming so close to an Olympic medal because it would have changed my life.
“I think the scoring system and rules of the sport still have a long way to go, as the style of fighting is changing because of the equipment, and this should not be the case.
“There are big changes needed, but I do think we're heading in the right direction.”
“There are some very good, very experienced, very tough fighters that I'm going to have to beat to be Olympic Champion, and they will have come to London for the same thing,” he added.
“A match can turn in seconds and one mistake can see you on your way to hospital on a stretcher, or worse. There is no playing and there will be no place to hide.” — Reuters