Updated: Friday, 19th October 2018 @ 10:03am

Regrets? I've had a few: The lost years of Manchester taekwondo star Dominic Brookes that cost him Olympic dream

Regrets? I've had a few: The lost years of Manchester taekwondo star Dominic Brookes that cost him Olympic dream

By Paddy Dinham

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

While people all over the globe said their final farewells to Nelson Mandela late last year, he leaves behind a legacy that includes - among other things - a catalogue of inspirational quotes.

Try telling the aforementioned example to Team GB taekwondo athlete Dominic Brookes though.

For the 24-year-old Mancunian, education has proved more of an awkward obstacle than a powerful weapon.

He was taken to his first taekwondo lesson aged four by his mother, who wanted him to learn self-defence.

He immediately showed potential and continued the sport for the next 14 years, at which point he reached a crossroads in his life.

Either chase his dream and focus full-time on the sport or go on to higher education and provide himself with a safety net for a career outside of martial arts.

He chose the latter and emerged from the University of Manchester with a Masters degree in Chemistry.

It was a sensible and measured decision but, in hindsight, he wholeheartedly admits it may well have been the wrong one.

“I regret that a little bit,” he said after being eliminated from the inaugural World Taekwondo Grand Prix in his home city of Manchester 10 days before Christmas.

“If I’d have put university aside and decided to go after I did taekwondo, I’d have three more years experience and I could have gone to the [Olympic] games or increased my chances of going to Rio.”

The unseeded Brookes looked set to bow out somewhat anonymously in the event’s second round when he came up against Cha Tae-moon, the widely-acclaimed South Korean who had been crowned world champion in July.

The bout, described by Brookes as "probably the most intense fight I've ever had," was stopped early as the lead was considered unassailable at 23-10 - to the Englishman.

“When we were fighting we were never moving, it was just bam, bam, bam," said Brookes.

“I didn’t even notice when I 12-pointed him, my brain was working out was the maths. I was thinking: that can’t be right.”

It was the performance of a lifetime, a whirlwind combination of skill and energy, showcasing his raw talent.

Suddenly, with the possible fairy tale of an unfancied local lad scrapping his way past the top guns to glory, a sizeable portion of the attention on Lutalo Muhammad and Aaron Cook had deflected onto Brookes.

Unfortunately that stunning victory proved merely to be a five-minute insight into what might have been.

His next match offered little refrain as he came up against Hadi Mostean Loron, runner-up to Cha in the World Championships.

He again displayed his potential as he lead 4-2 going into the final round but then - perhaps drained of energy by his already-titanic effort, perhaps crumbling under the pressure of realising just how far he could go - flaws began to appear in his game.

Whatever the case, a more permanent training schedule and more experience at top-level tournaments would surely have prevented his late collapse.

“He got a sneaky point that I didn’t notice and I was trying to keep it safe so I thought: if I can get out of the ring and avoid a headshot [I will win] but when I glanced over to the scoreboard it was not 4-2, it was 4-3 and then he made it four-all,” he said.

“It was a stupid mistake on my part.”

The match went into a golden point which was won by the Iranian but again Brookes admitted he was his own worst enemy.

“I thought I was a bit confident in my reverse, too confident. I thought I could get him before he got me.

“If it was 0-0 on the golden point it would have gone to superiority and I think I had the edge. I should have played it a bit safer.”

Brookes was out and with it went his chances of claiming a surprise bronze medal but his performances en route to the quarter-final will make others sit up and take notice.

He was in Paris a week later where there was more British success and although Brookes exited earlier than he would have liked, he is fully focused on making up for his lost years.

“I now feel comfortable doing taekwondo. I’ve got the other side of my life covered and I’ve got my degree, I’ve got my profession. All my efforts are going into taekwondo now.”

Whatever the future holds for Brookes in the sport, he will never forget the day when he not only humiliated the world champion but did so approximately three-and-a-half miles from where he was born.

Who knows, one day he might even become a leading scientist.

Image courtesy of World Taekwondo Federation via YouTube, with thanks.

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