MIKE Pejic cannot hide his disappointment after claiming a European taekwondo bronze medal – but is determined to now push on and be crowned world champion.
The Stoke City legend was in the form of his life in the poomsae event in Belgrade, Serbia, where contenders are judged on technique and presentation.
He beat Turkey’s well-backed Galip Yalcinkaya in the quarter-final before a heartbreakingly defeat to Rudolf Schwalger in the semis.
Pejic admits he thought he had done enough to make it through to the under-65s final against world number one Grand Master Jeong Cheol Kim, but the results came back with Austria’s Schwalger 0.02 points ahead.
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“I’m flat, I knew it was the best performance I had ever done and when the scores came up there was total disbelief … to be beaten by such a small margin,” said Pejic.
“I thought I had beaten him. My kicks were higher and I felt I could go on to give Grand Master Kim a run for his money.
“I’ve already had a talk with my coaches because now the next chapter starts, 12 months’ hard grind preparing for the World Championships in Peru.
“I step up an age group, but Serbia showed me I have improved from winning bronze at the Worlds in Mexico last year and I know I can and I will keep getting better.
“The work starts again and now that desire to win is driving me on. I want gold.”
Pejic, from Chesterton, relished the atmosphere as he took on Yalcinkaya, who had shared the bronze medal platform with him at the Worlds last autumn.
The 65-year-old former Stoke City and England full-back explained: “Galip was a silver medal winner in the last Euros and he had a lot of support.
“This guy is number one in Turkey and they love their poomsae. They put the mats right next to his supporters so there was a lot of pressure, but I love that challenge.
“It’s like football in that the crowd can have a pop at you. It’s great fun and I knew I had to put in a massive performance. I did and it was a huge moment.”
That performance and his form going into the competition – finishing second in the German Open and winning the Northern Ireland International – left Pejic full of confidence going into a showdown with Schwalger.
He explained: “I had only beaten Rudolf in Germany two weeks ago and I felt, as we stood waiting for the results, that I had won again.”
Grand Master Kim went on to win gold in what was his final competition before retiring.
Pejic, who will now step up to the over-65s age group, is having a short break after returning home to North Staffordshire.
He had wanted to win a medal for his dad Milovan, who grew up in southern Serbia and moved to England during the Second World War. He passed away in May.
“It was a big few days physically and emotionally, but it was a wonderful experience,” he said. “I managed to brush up my Serbian, which I haven’t used for a long time, and to get to an orthodox church to say a message for my dad. That meant a lot.”