Taekwondo star Aaron Cook ended his year fighting for the Isle of Man with silver in the French Open in Paris the weekend before Christmas.
The silver medal brings his total tally to seven finals in his first year under the Manx flag.
It has been an huge medal haul with five golds coming in the Swedish, Belgian, Spanish, Pan-American and Costa Rica opens and a further final at this year’s Dutch open alongside his bronze medals at the Manchester Grand Prix recently and Swiss Open.
Cook has only failed to make the finals on two occasions out of 11 and, as a result, he is expected to be in the top three in the rankings at the end of the month.
However, rule changes will bring significant change in the final two years before qualification for the 2016 Brazil Olympics is decided in December 2015.
There will be a race for ranking points as the Briton in the top six in the world qualifies for Rio under the rules brought in by the world body after Cook’s controversial non-selection for London 2012.
On route to the final in Paris he faced off against Andrew Deer of Great Britain in his opening bout. Deer was also in action at the recent Manchester Grand Prix defeating the current world champion before falling to USAs five-time world champ Steven Lopez who was then dispatched by Cook in the quarter-finals.
Both Deer and Cook have history together as former sparring partners and the two had also fought previously as Cook’s first bout for the island at the Swedish Open in February.
Cook had won that bout 9-7 but knew not to take his opponent lightly so he set about scoring quickly to the body and getting the crowd’s attention with his aggressive headshots. He remained in control of the match and secured victory 10 seconds into the third round with a 12-point gap winning 18-6.
Matches are stopped early if a fighter is 12 points ahead at the end of the second round or at any time in third.
His next opponent was Criag Brown, another former GB academy member who joined Jamaica’s line-up at the start of this year. The two faced off recently in the Costa Rica Open semis which went in Cook’s favour 8-6.
This time Cook found the sweet spot on the electronic scoring system and quickly raced into a 5-0 lead. Brown started scoring freely himself in the second round but Cook did likewise on the trade-offs and again secured a 12-point victory midway through the third with a four-point aerial attack for 18-6.
The quarter-finals pitted Cook against Brazil’s potential home favourite for 2016, Andre Billia - the second time in eight days to two had met at that stage of an event.
The Brazilian had a strong defence was able to stop Cook scoring early on as he quickly opened up a slender lead.
It was only after a successful video replay call by coach and brother Luke Cook that Aaron took the lead.
Once in front, he never looked back and eventually won comfortably 16-5.
The quarter-finals saw a shock as the next highest seed Turkey’s Yunus Sari, a former world finalist and the other bronze medallist from the Manchester Grand Prix, fell to home favourite Ynoussa Sawadogo who then faced off against Britain’s Damon Sansum in the other semi-final.
Cook faced off against Australia’s young pretender Hayder Shkara who had beat another world medallist from Mali in his quarter-final bout.
Feeling the effects of his earlier fights, Shkara struggled for distance and Cook quickly used his superior speed and reaction abilities as he picked off single points on the counter-attack.
With the young Australian suffering with cramp and looking disinterested in attack, Cook secured the final points needed to clinch his third point gap win of the day and reach his seventh final of the year.
He then faced off against Sansum after Sawadogo pulled out of his semis-final late with a possible knee injury, despite leading 6-0 at the time.
After a slight delay, when the final match did get underway there were fireworks from the beginning as both fighters seemed eager to bag the final 10 ranking points on offer in 2013. With both scoring good punches and body kicks, it was tied at the end of the first round 7-7.
The second round was more of the same but Cook took a slender lead before falling behind as Sansum used his unorthodox chop kick to good effect. Luke appealed, stating the head was connected but above the ankle bone which would invalidate the three points scored, however the video replay proved inconclusive and the points stood.
Sansum led by one going into the third round which left Cook chasing the match - never ideal against someone who uses their opponent’s own momentum against them on the electronic system.
Sansum soon racked up a few extra points leaving the match unreachable in the seconds that were left on the clock.
Cook fought bravely until the end but was clearly fatigued by his extensive efforts over the last two weekends.
However, it was another final for the young newly adopted Manx fighter who will be keen to stay within the world’s top six next year.
Aaron will be running training sessions for Isle of Man students next year in between a busy calendar of internationals. Cook has had a major boost for 2014 with sponsorship from Creechurch Capital.
Follow Isle of Man Taekwondo Association on Facebook or on twitter @iomtkd