First Day of Karate Sees Sandra Sanchez Claim First Olympic Gold
It was a historic first day of competition for Karate’s Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, with he first medals being presented in the Women’s Kata, Men’s -67kg and Women’s -55kg categories.
Women’s Kata kicked off the proceedings, with the two favourites coming into the Olympic Games putting on quite a show. Sandra Sanchez of Spain and Kiyou Shimizu of Japan have been trading titles back and forth for months. It was no surprise that both reached the final with relative ease.
Shimizu received the highest individual score of the elimination round, notching a 28.00 in her second Kata – an exquisite Suparinpei that received 19.60 for technical performance. However, in the ranking round, the two rivals were neck and neck with identical scores, setting the stage for a highly anticipated final.
Both karatekas chose to perform the Kata Chatanyara Kushanku for the denouement. With the eyes of the world upon them, it was Sanchez who eventually stood triumphant, claiming gold with an almost flawless routine, 28.06 to 27.88.
“It is crazy. I am so emotional. I am feeling so many things,” Sanchez said. “I am happy, but I want to cry. I think I need more time to believe that this is real. I want to see my Kata and make sure it happened because, right now, I can’t believe it. This was the perfect final, with Shimizu in Japan, at the Budokan. This really is the best moment. It is amazing.”
The Spaniard is now concurrently Olympic, World and European Champion, an impressive early gift to herself ahead of her 40th birthday next month. Mo Sheung Grace Lau of Hong Kong, China and Viviana Bottaro of Italy took the bronze medals.
Steven Da Costa Takes French Flag to Top of the Podium
With so much on the line, there was a tense atmosphere throughout the day at Tokyo’s famed Nippon Budokan Martial Arts venue. Everything was even more charged when the athletes stepped onto the tatami for the Men’s Kumite -67kg medal rounds.
World Champion Steven Da Costa of France took matters into his own hands; defeating top-ranked Darkhan Assadilov of Kazakhstan in the semifinals, before blanking Eray Samdan of Turkey 5-0 in the final for a much-deserved gold medal.
“It wasn’t a surprise to me I came here for gold. That was my only ambition here. It’s been years and years of work and preparation,” Da Costa said.
Assadilov and Jordan’s Abdel Rahman Almasatfa, who was undefeated until losing to Samdan in the semifinals, will head home as bronze medallists.
Ivet Goranova Suprises in Women’s -55KG
The historic first day of Olympic karate action came to a crescendo in the Women’s -55kg category, where Bulgaria’s Ivet Goranova scored an upset victory over World No.2 Anzhelika Terliuga of the Ukraine.
Terliuga had played catch up all day, needing a win in her final elimination round bout to advance to the medal round. Then a dramatic ‘Ippon’, with a second remaining in her semifinal, against Chinese Taipei’s Tzu-Yun Wen tied the score at 4-4. She earned her spot in the final via Hantei (judges’ decision).
Goranova edged into a 2-1 early led and never looked back, eventually stretching the difference to 5-1. A scoreline that Terliuga simply could not claw back from.
Goranova finished the day undefeated, cruising through the elimination and medal rounds to the top of the podium. She outscored her opponents 24-9 en route to gold. “For me this is a big dream in my life,” said Goranova. “I felt incredible in the competition and gave all of myself.”
Wen and Austria’s Bettina Plank claimed the bronze medals.
Japan’s Ryo Kiyuna triumphs long-time rival Damian Quintero
In the clash of the Kata titans at Nippon Budokan, Ryo Kiyuna triumphed over long-time rival Damian Quintero to win Japan’s first gold medal at Karate’s Olympic debut on home soil.
Coming into Tokyo 2020, Kiyuna said that he was capable of scoring a perfect score, such was the belief in his admittedly formidable abilities. In the end, he wasn’t far off. Kiyuna scored 28.72 in the final to Quintero’s 27.66.
“I didn’t get to where I am without being supported by a lot of people, I’m full of gratitude,” said Kiyuna, who carried a photo of his late mother with him to the medals podium following his win. “I wanted my mother to see the view from the top of the podium, and to tell her that I kept my promise of winning gold at the Olympic Games. She can rest assured.”
Kiyuna will have brought great delight to the entire country of Japan, whose athletes had so far been kept off the top spot on the podium at the venerable Martial Arts hall. Kiyou Shimizu came close the previous night but, had to settle for silver after being pipped to gold by Spain’s Sandra Sanchez.
The gold medal will be a just reward for all the hard work and dedication Kiyuna has put into his craft since he started practicing Karate at the age of 5. He claims to never take a day off from the dojo, training 365 days a year – five to six hours daily on technical practice and one to two hours on physical training. His message for everyone watching at home was a simple one: “Never give up, always continue, and follow your dreams.”
Taking home the bronze medals in the Men’s Kata were Turkey’s Ali Sofuoglu and USA’s Ariel Torres, who can be equally proud of their excellent showings today. “It’s an indescribable happiness for me because it’s the first time for Karate being in the Olympics, and I am one of only 32 medallists here,” said Sofuoglu. “We have no limits in Karate, so we shouldn’t stop here. We need to strive to be better.”
World Champion Jovana Prekovic is the New Olympic Champion
A gripping Women’s -61kg division final featured two undefeated karatekas on the day, World No.1 Xiaoyan Yin and third-seed Jovana Prekovic. Little separated the two that, neither was able to score a point during the bout and the gold medal was awarded by Hantei (judges’ decision).
As gutting as it was for Yin to walk away with the sliver, it was a fully deserved victory for the current World Champion who had outwitted and outscored her opponents throughout the day.
Prekovic was also full of praise for her fellow karatekas for showcasing the best that the sport has to offer on the world’s biggest sporting stage: “It’s a historic moment for us, for Karate, to be here at the Olympic Games and we showed that we are all strong and brave and deserve these medals.”
Meanwhile, Egypt’s Giana Lotfy and Turkey’s Merve Coban secured the bronze medals in the division.
Karate Legend Rafael Aghayev falls agonisingly short of Olympic Glory
In the Men’s Kumite -75kg, Karate legend Rafael Aghayev (AZE) fell agonizingly short of Olympic glory in what he claims will be his last competition before retirement. World No.1 Luigi Busa claimed top honours in the gold medal match with a hard-fought 1-0 victory.
“I’m very happy to have won this gold medal and I’m going to be celebrating with my family and my whole team,” said Busa. “It’s been a really fantastic experience and if I can do anything to help Karate be a part of Paris 2024 or Los Angeles 2028 I will.”
A Tale of Two Extremes
It was a tale of two extremes on the final day of the Olympic Karate competition at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo.
On a high note, eighth-seed Feryal Abdelaziz of Egypt, pulled off what was arguably the upset of the tournament when she, defeated World No.1 Iryna Zaretska of Azerbaijan 2-0 in the final of the Women’s Kumite +61kg division.
With a bronze medal in the team event at the 2018 World Championships and, an individual silver at the 2019 African Games as her biggest victories to date, this win was one many didn’t see coming.
“I can’t describe my feeling, I am very, very happy,” the 22-year-old said. “I am very tired for four years and after the four years God said to me, ‘It’s the gold and you deserve it’.”
Abdelaziz finished the Elimination Round with a 2-1-1 record which, was enough to see her top Pool B and, an indication of just how close the weight category was. No athlete managed to remain unbeaten in the round from either pool.
Abdelaziz continued her methodical march to the top of the podium in the medal round, doing just enough to see off Sofya Berultseva of Kazakhstan 5-4. She saved her best for last against current -68kg World Champion Zaretska, by employing an impressive defensive display that frustrated her opponent over the full three minutes.
Zaretska was left disappointed as she appeared to land a kick at the end of the match but it was judged to have landed a second too late.
The final of the Men’s Kumite +75kg division came to a dramatic conclusion as well, but for entirely different reasons.
No.2 seed Sajad Ganjzadeh of Iran was awarded the gold medal after Tareg Hamedi of Saudi Arabia was disqualified for a powerful kick to the head. This brought the Iranian to the tatami, bringing a sudden end to the proceedings with Hamedi leading 4-1.
“I’m very happy that I won this gold medal,” Ganjzadeh said, “but I’m sad that it happened like this. But overall, today was a very good day for me. Until the final all my matches were very good.”
Hamedi had raced out to a 4-0 lead 30 seconds into the bout and, was leading 4-1 at the time of the infraction. The 23-year-old was visibly upset as he exited the competition area. “I don’t have any objection to the decision,” he said. “I think that I competed well today, that’s all I can say.”
Ryutaro Araga and Ugur Aktas, meanwhile, claimed the bronze medals.
Three thrilling days concluded in Nippon Budokan where Karate’s dreams of becoming an Olympic sport finally came true.