Sarah Stevenson gets a kick from gold in Korea

Able to kick higher than a Tiller girl and harder than a mule, Sarah Stevenson won her second world title this year

#SJA2011: There are plenty of world champions among the possible choices for Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year, including a woman who this year won a martial arts title in taekwondo’s back yard, writes TREVOR BAXTER

A little known piece of music by Tchaikovsky summed up Sarah Stevenson’s mood in South Korea earlier this year.

Not Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, though. The Tchaikovsky in question was Bram Tchaikovsky, formerly guitarist with pub rock/punk band, the Motors!

And one of his better known tunes, Sarah Smiles, captured the elation felt by Stevenson after becoming WTF world champion in the -67kg weight division. course, making Britain’s greatest ever taekwondo exponent more than qualified for consideration for SJA honours.

Ahead of the London Olympics, Britain’s players duly secured a record four world championship medals in the spiritual home of taekwondo this year. But Stevenson was the only one to deliver gold, 13 years on from becoming junior world champion.

Stevenson’s career has been a glittering one, seeing her win the senior world title in 2001, world silver in 2005, four European crowns and Britain’s first and only Olympic taekwondo medal in Beijing, before defeating her global rivals again in Gyeongju last May.

With an ability to kick her legs higher than any girl in a chorus line and deliver a kick to the face harder than a bucking bronco, it’s easy to see why she is so good at her chosen sporting career.

Stevenson has become a role model for many aspiring taekwondo players. Married to Great Britain coach, Steve Jennings, the 28-year-old has reached the top through dedication and hard work, values engrained while growing up among humble surroundings in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

Sarah Stevenson: world champion. Photographs courtesy of Steve Flynn/GB Taekwondo

This eulogy of Stevenson’s talents as a taekwondo player must also include her indomitable spirit. She flew to Korea this year knowing her father, Roy, was dying of a brain tumour and with her mother, Diane, diagnosed with lymphoma. Less strong-willed individuals might have crumbled under the mental strain. Not Stevenson.

Using her parents’ fragile state of health as the ultimate motivation, she produced the performances of her life to conquer the world.

Sadly, Roy lost his fight for life, aged 63, in July. Diane continues to battle what Sarah calls “this terrible disease”.

After grieving the loss of her father, Sarah has returned to training, driven on by her burning desire to be the best she can be for herself, family and those who strive to match her commitment to taekwondo and an ambition to compete at her fourth Olympics next year.

Few would bet against her, not least younger team mates, Bianca Walkden and Jade Jones, who consider themselves fortunate to train with a martial arts great.

Stevenson’s commitment to helping young people extends beyond the limits of her duties as part of the Great Britain Academy in Newton Heath. The Ten Acres Lane facility provides an opportunity for the wider Mancunian community to try their hand at taekwondo.

Pupils from local primary schools have already enjoyed taekwondo lessons from the humble world champion.

Through “Sarah Stevenson Inspires”, she is passionate about passing on knowledge, experience and key skills to aid both athletic and personal development in youngsters.

“It’s great to have such a fantastic facility to train in,” Stevenson says of the GB Academy. “But if it helps discover Britain’s future stars that would be just as pleasing to me.”

SJA member Trevor Baxter is Olympics correspondent for the Manchester Evening News and GB Taekwondo’s press officer