DESPITE being Irish Taekwondo’s first and only Olympian Jack Woolley always uses the pronoun “we” to describe his remarkable sporting journey.
The sole high performance flagbearer for his sport for half a decade deliberately uses the plural to acknowledge the contribution of his parents and coach Robert Taaffe.
But now Woolley’s “we” is including the next generation whom he has not only inspired but with whom he can now benefit.
When you’re a sporting ground breaker who has had to go abroad to find quality sparring for so long, the deepening of the domestic talent pool has mutual benefits, even if weight classes differ.
“From 2015 up until the Tokyo Olympics we used international competitions as training camps and were constantly travelling. We still are (travelling) but we’re now at the stage where competition is just competition,” he explains.
His South Dublin Taekwondo club mate Leroy Dilandu (20) stepped up to the senior international ranks in 2021.
“There’s actually 16 kilos in weight difference between us,” Woolley explains. “I fight at minus-58 and Leroy fights at minus-74 and I’m also taller.
“I’m faster so when he goes against the ‘74s, they’re not kicking as fast. For me to fight against someone who is a bit more strategic and defensive and heavier, that really balances it out for both of us.”
He says Dilandu’s blocking and cover is one of the best in the world and he also now has a similarly symbiotic relationship with Ryan Doyle and David Phelan, also minus-74 fighters. “The three of them are all different heights so all that helps and the fact that we’re all in the same club.”
Woolley also spars with the best junior girls in Ireland who fight closer to his own category (minus-55 and minus-59). “Weight-wise I can’t hit them too hard so I need to fight them a little more strategically which makes me smarter.”
The Tallaght fighter still avails of his close relationship with the Hankuk club in Madrid to which he travels a few times a-year, staying with host families and sparring with their elites, including some female Olympic silver medallists.
Two-time Dutch Olympian Resmie Oogink, whom Taaffe is also now coaching, is also a useful training partner.
But Woolley is finally benefitting from the emergence of more international class at home in a high performance culture that he has undoubtedly inspired and fostered.
“They’re a bit younger than me and I’m a lot lighter than most of them but I feel their weight is balanced out by my level and experience and they’re able to push me in ways that other athletes mightn’t.”
As he observes: “It may be an individual sport but it’s always a team effort.”