The Olympics in Rio are coming to an end and we have been seeing so many stories of hope and resilience at these games. Stories to truly inspire the next generation of hopefuls, and not just olympians. One of these stories comes from a first time olympian who’s name you haven’t heard quite yet.
A long standing member of team GB and the son of African taekwondo champion, Mahama Cho’s beginnings are more than humble. Cho’s taekwondo journey and legacy began when he was chosen as a wildcard option at the Manchester Grand Prix in 2013, where he went on to win the heavyweight category.
Mahama Cho has since built his impressive resume competing in the Swiss, Paris and Luxor opens. Cho was born and raised for most part of his life in Ivory Coast, with his father abroad and his mother unable to care for him, he was raised by his grandmother. Cho is a practicing Muslim and as a child he attended an Arabic school. He openly discusses his religion, saying “Religion is a big thing for me, it’s the one thing other than taekwondo which has probably made me survive because of the strength it gives me.”
For most of his childhood Mahama was bullied, because he was larger and stronger kids at school would pick on him and even beat him. When Cho was eight his father brought him to England to live with him. Mahama’s father had been living in Great Britain working as a taxi driver and a taekwondo teacher. His father was reluctent to teach him taekwondo, but quickly realized his son needed the skills for self-defense.
Cho’s lifetime commitment to taekwondo didn’t come until his teens. Mahama began a semi-professional career in football – or soccer as many know it. He played for Erith Town. At 17 years old he was invited to join the GB squad, Cho had to decide between football and fighting.
Cho decided to join the Great Britain taekwondo squad. Cho said when he told his father about his decision he asked him “why?” This would be one of the hardest decisions he made. Mahama’s short career came to a sudden halt when his arm was injured in 2011 at the World Championship in South Korea. His injury thwarted his performance and his chance at a medal, and also ended his hopes at a place in the 2012 London Olympics. After his injury, a devastated Cho moved to Paris to study.
Though he was not intending to continue his training, the French Taekwondo Federation offered him the chance to carry on fighting during his studies. Cho, allowed to represent France without full nationality at lower ranking events, won gold at the 2013 US and Dutch Open events. Without a French citizenship he was not able to compete in international events. Disheartened from missing so many large competitions Cho wanted to quit. His father, Zakaia, sensed his son was about to make a decision he would regret. Zakaia contacted British performance director Gary Hall who brought him back into the GB squad. Cho says he is able to channel the childhood pain and hardship to give him strength.
Now back at home Cho has added to his already impressive resume by securing gold at the World Taekwondo Grand Prix in 2013, a silver medal in 2014 and in 2016 he secured Great Britain their fourth qualifying place for Rio 2016. In an interview with Team GB Cho said “I feel unstoppable right now, which is a bold thing to say, but I know I’m in a great place with my life.”
This article is written by Rimsha Sayyed