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BRITAIN’S TEENAGE TAEKWONDO STAR AARON COOK SUFFERS HEARTBREAK AT BEIJING OLYMPIC QUALIFIERS

 Sixteen year-old British taekwondo star, Aaron Cook suffered heartbreak this afternoon when falling just one match short of gaining qualification for the Beijing Olympics next summer, after losing out in a thrilling quarter final to Italy’s Mauro Sarmiento at Manchester’s MEN Arena.

Cook and Sarmiento were tied at 3-3 in the final round of their -80kgs division match with just a minute to go before a devastating head kick from the tall Italian gave him a two point lead which he managed to maintain until the end.

There was no disgrace for Cook, who is technically still a junior, after he belied his youth to put in some devastatingly powerful and energetic performances earlier in the day. The Dorset teenager was in characteristically belligerent mood in his opening bout against Ireland’s Sean Joyce, bringing the match to an early end in just the second round, having built up a seven point lead to win 9-2.

It was a case of deja vu in Cook’s next match as he also saw off Markus Jiskra in the second round with the score again 9-2. He was made to work harder in his third match, when taken the full three rounds by Alexander Briones of the Philippines but eventually ran out a convincing 5-2 winner.

In a nail biting quarter final Cook matched the far more experienced Sarmiento blow for blow, but it was the World University gold medallist who landed the killer hit to Cook with a bone crunching head kick with just 60 seconds left on the clock.

A philosophical Cook said, “Although I am obviously gutted not to have qualified for the Olympics I must take some positives from the fact that I am still young and will have many more opportunities like this.

“I fought well but was edged out and the size of my opponent was always going to make it tough. The home support here in Manchester has been fantastic and I want to thank everyone who has made me feel at home. The staff and all of the coaches have been wonderful to me over the past few months and for that I’m also very grateful.”

All is not lost for Cook, who along with other members of the GB team will have the chance to secure a place in China next summer when they take part in January’s European Qualification Event in Istanbul. The British athletes will be hoping to emulate Sarah Stevenson, who secured her spot at Beijing on Friday afternoon, when finishing runner up in the +67kgs category.

Great Britain Performance Director Gary Hall was delighted with his team’s performance, saying, “All the team fought fantastically well. Although Aaron, Tony and Louise just missed out they are still young and will have learnt a tremendous amount from this event.

“Sarah’s result on Friday was a fantastic boost for the team. She has proven herself on the international stage many times before but to go out there and perform the way she did when she’s still recovering from a broken hand was quite exceptional.”