Olympic dream: Nelson taekwondo superstar aiming for Tokyo 2020

Aneila Afsar has her sights set on the 2020 Olympics. (credit: Andy Ford)
Aneila Afsar has her sights set on the 2020 Olympics. (credit: Andy Ford)
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A taekwondo star-in-the-making from Nelson has an Olympic dream set firmly in her sights, with the 19-year-old steadfast in her belief that she will be more than ready by the time Tokyo 2020 comes around.

It was at the age of just six that Aneila Afsar fell in love with taekwondo after her parents, Saeed and Jannat Afsar - keen to get their "hyperactive" daughter involved in after-school classes - signed her up to take part at Nelson Community Centre: the first step of Aneila's on-going journey to becoming an Olympian.

Aneila during one of her training sessions with John Docker. (credit: Andy Ford)

Aneila during one of her training sessions with John Docker. (credit: Andy Ford)

"I just loved it," said Aneila, who now lives in Manchester. "I had my first fight at seven and won, so from there I was like: 'I like this.'"

Twelve years on from that debut victory, and Aneila has won numerous medals and travelled to 19 countries, with the former Pendle Vale College student training at Burnley College with her strength and conditioning coach, John Docker, who has worked with 18 international athletes including Samantha Murray, who won a silver medal in the modern pentathalon in 2012.

Bolstered further by the success of Jade Jones, who claimed gold medals in the women's 57kg taekwondo in London 2012 and Rio 2016, the popularity of the sport has been blossoming in the UK for some time, reflected in the fact that Team GB Olympic funding for taekwondo for Tokyo 2020 (£9.9m) is more than 16 times more than what is was for Athens 2004 (£600k).

"The Olympics is the ultimate target for any athlete, it's just taking necessary steps and setting smaller goals on the way," said Aneila, who also trains at Ultimate Taekwondo in Doncaster under former-Olympian Kathy Hook. "I'm confident I'll get there.

The former Pendle Vale and Burnley College student is set to compete in Eindhoven at the Dutch Open in March.

The former Pendle Vale and Burnley College student is set to compete in Eindhoven at the Dutch Open in March.

"I'm feeling in good shape," Aneila added. "In Doncaster, training depends on how close we are to competition - it's usually a lot of drills, pad work, and fitness work: my coach likes to combine plyometrics with taekwondo, which is fun."

Having spent most of her young life taking part in international tournaments, 2018 has more of the same in store for Aneila, who will compete at the Dutch Open in Eindhoven in early March as well as a range of other events, before gearing herself up for the 2019 World Taekwondo Championships in Manchester.

With the sport having taken her as far afield as South Korea, where she took part in an "insane" two-week training camp, Aneila said: "Whilst you're doing it [travelling to international tournaments] you think it's normal, but you definitely grow up from the experience. I've made friends from countries all around the world; it's amazing.

"My parents have been so supportive; when my funding didn't stretch they made up the extra," she added. "There's no way I could've done it without them."

But as inspirational as it would be for Team GB fans to see Aneila fulfill a life-long dream when Tokyo 2020 rolls around, it is the passion for the sport that first blossomed when Aneila was just six that will stand out above all else.

"I just can't imagine not doing taekwondo," she says simply.