By Steven Oldham, Sports Correspondent
Taekwondo’s European Championships arrive in Manchester this weekend and two of the city’s GB Academy fighters have shared their thoughts with MM.
Martin Stamper will compete in the -68kg weight band, one of Team GB’s chosen Olympic weights, whilst Damon Sansum fights at heavyweight, +87kg.
Damon fights on Thursday, the tournament’s opening day, whilst Martin competes on the closing day, Sunday.
Damon said: “It’s amazing to be picked – I couldn’t feel any better about it. I have been given the chance to represent Great Britain and I’m proud of that.”
Martin added: “I expected to be picked for the Euro’s – I’ve been pretty consistent over the last 18 months. I’m putting every effort in I can.”
Both men are acutely aware that this is the last chance they have to impress selectors ahead of the Olympic squad being announced in June.
Stamper would appear to be in pole position at his weight, having won the British Open and claimed a silver medal in the French Open.
His rivals – Michael Harvey, Tony Grisman and Jordan Gayle – have not medalled in any of the four tournaments counting towards Olympic competition.
Indeed, Grisman and Gayle have missed out on the Euro’s altogether, with Harvey competing at -63kg.
“I had a blip at the German Open but no-one capitalised, and even at the Dutch I fought well,” said Martin.
“If I perform well at the Euro’s, I can say with confidence I’m going to London 2012.”
WINNER: Damon with his trophy for winning the German Open in Hamburg
Sansum however, is on the back foot for Olympic selection after Aaron Cook was chosen at -80kg – the second of Team GB’s nominated weights for London 2012.
Cook won both the British and Dutch Opens, as well as the Olympic test event, although had to settle for bronze in the German event as Sansum beat fellow Brit Lutalo Muhammad in the final.
Damon said: “This is the last stage we have to put our case forward – the team have done so well in the last couple of years, I am sure this will spur all of us on this weekend.”
“The heavyweights are big guys, but I should be fine. What they have in power, I hope to make up in quickness having competed at the lower weight,” he said.
Both he and Martin know this could be a career defining weekend, and the Liverpudlian is eager to make the most of his chance.
“There are some class fighters coming over the Euro’s. It will definitely be tough, but I know I have the ability to do well,” said Stamper.
This is the first time the European Championships have been held in Manchester – indeed, it is the first time an elite taekwondo championship has come to these shores.
The Championships take place this weekend, Thursday-Sunday at the Regional Arena at SportCity and it’s the last chance you will have to see the fighters in action ahead of the Olympics.
Tickets are still available – phone 0844 844 0444 or visit www.ticketmaster.co.uk