Lutalo Muhammad takes pride in the fact that he was chosen to represent England in taekwondo in the London Olympic Games next month despite the controversy over his selection. He says that he would have been ready for a play-off with world No 1 Aaron Cook to eliminate the furor, but none was requested. Muhammad, who was selected for the London Games despite an inferior world ranking and less experience, said he would have picked himself to beat Cook if the selectors had insisted on such a contest.
Muhammad, 21, said he â€œheard some rumorsâ€ of a play-off. â€˜â€˜My attitude,â€™â€™ he said, â€˜â€˜is whatever happens, happensâ€. He added: â€œI respect whatever decision is made. If it ever came to anything, I would have been up for it. But I respect their decision and am very happy to be going to the Games. Would I back myself to beat him? Of course.â€
Muhammad first came to the selectorsâ€™ attention when he beat Cook in a competition in Germany this year, but in another clash just weeks later Cook won easily. Both won their European taekwondo championships, but Muhammad was in a higher non-Olympic weight category. But officials from GB Taekwondo said a play-off was never considered. The selection process of GB Taekwondo has been fiercely criticized by the British Olympic Association, although it eventually ratified the selection after sending it back for review, and it is now the subject of an inquiry by the World Taekwondo Federation.
Muhammad said the controversy had escalated beyond his imagination. â€œIt was always going to be a tough decision that would have created a tough ordeal for both of us,â€ he said. â€œBut I think the situation has really been blown way out of proportion more than any of us expected. Itâ€™s been tough on both of us and I donâ€™t really think thatâ€™s been fair. At the end of the day weâ€™re both European champions. We both just want to compete to the best of our ability.â€
Muhammad said he had been sheltered from a lot of the fierce public reaction by GB Taekwondo team-mates and staff based in Manchester although he has received nasty mail. He said he had no personal issues with Cook but he was now focusing on winning an Olympic gold medal to justify the selectorsâ€™ faith.
â€œI draw confidence from the fact they picked me on three separate occasions, so itâ€™s great news, I am really happy,â€ he said. As for Cook, who no longer trains in the GB Taekwondo program, Muhammad said: â€œI have no problems with Aaron. I have to put all of this out of my mind and focus on my training.â€ The Olympics take place in London in July.