Though two decades and four Olympic games have come and gone since, Burns remains the only Australian to be an Olympic Champion in the sport.
When asked about what she remembers about the iconic moment she claimed gold, Burns admits she didn’t initially realise the significance of it.
“The very first second after finishing the match, I was so excited to have won the match, I was so in the moment, it didn’t dawn on me initially, that I had won the gold medal” recalls Burns. “In between the final fight and the medal presentation, is when it really sunk in.”
Burns, who is currently competing a PhD on performance enhancing lifestyles, explained how she kept focus on the process rather than thinking about the gold medal, a strategy that eventually led to her triumph.
“I was very focused and process driven, it was all about keeping it ordinary, I used to speak to my sports psychologist and we talked about doing ordinary things on an extraordinary stage.
“The ordinary was about competing against the girls I knew, I knew the referees, I knew the job I had to do. It was all about following the game plan, following a strategy, and getting points.”
There is no doubt the course of Burns‘ life changed forever after Sydney 2000. She has since worked as a motivational speaker and is a successful business woman, promoting healthy and environmentally friendly products. After completing a Bachelor of Health Science degree in naturopathy and nutrition, Burns has been passionate about writing nutritional programs for children.
Perhaps the most famous or infamous incident since Sydney was the fact her gold medal was stolen in 2003, but miraculously, she managed to get it back a week later through a tip off received by Channel Nine reporter Tony Jones.
“My house was broken into. I was living in North Fitzroy at the time, they took some random things including the medal,” explains Burns. “They took the medal without realising they couldn’t do much with it. We did a big media campaign and got it back. I was glad to have it back in my hands.”
While its been 20 years since her own experience, Burns is keen to help inspire the next generation of athletes who want to fulfill their own Olympic dreams. She is currently working with the AIS in their Gold Medal Ready program.
Burns is one of the ‘Gold Medal Alumni’, a group of athletes with a collective 80 Olympic Games appearances and 48 gold medals, who help athletes deal with the pressure of performing on such a stage.
“This program is where athletes who win gold medals help the current crop of athletes coming through for the Tokyo and Paris (2024) games. It is for all sports but combat sports, including taekwondo are involved.
“I am passionate about taekwondo and martial arts for young people so I am always trying to promote the sport.”
Burns lauded the recent appointment of another Olympian, former Matilda great Heather Garriock, as CEO of Taekwondo Australia.
“I am really excited, she has a fantastic clear vision for the sport, we are lucky to have her,” praised Burns. “I think she will bring a lot, her approach will be multi-faceted.
“She wants to elevate the participation across the board. Taekwondo is accessible to people of all ages. You can start at four-years-old but can go into your 40s, 50s and 60s. There is a real opportunity to grow taekwondo at the club level and elite level. Heather will definitely be able to do that.”
Burns is proud her sport has always had a strong association with successful women.
“I think its really important to have equal gender representation in sports. For example, with women’s water polo, they had to campaign for the women’s team to go to the Sydney Games, the men always had a team but they had to campaign to get a women’s team. It made their gold medal even more historical.
“Personally I feel women have always been strong in martial arts and taekwondo, we always bring home medals. Our two most prestigious medals are held by women, my gold and Carmon Marton’s world title in 2013.
“Heather is the second female CEO of Australian Taekwondo. I am proud of being involved in a sport which has a strong history of women being involved.”