Olympics: 'Queens of kata' kick off karate's Games debut, Spain's Sanchez wins first gold

Japan's Kiyou Shimizu (left) and Spain's Sandra Sanchez.
Japan's Kiyou Shimizu (left) and Spain's Sandra Sanchez.PHOTOS: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - The women’s solo “kata” competition kicked off karate’s first foray into the Olympics on Thursday (Aug 5), with veteran Sandra Sanchez of Spain taking the maiden gold and leaving her perennial rival and hometown favourite Kiyou Shimizu with a silver.

“There are many emotions right now,” Sanchez said of making her debut on the Olympic stage.

“I waited a long time for this moment,” added the 39-year-old, who was once written off as too old to compete at the highest level.

Karate’s first gold-medal match between Sanchez and Japan’s Kiyou Shimizu involved not a single blow.

In the kata discipline, practitioners demonstrate offensive and defensive techniques against a virtual opponent, choosing from 102 forms with esoteric-sounding names like Chatanyara Kushanku and Suparinpei that they yell out before they begin.

The execution of the three-minute kata, which comes from the four main styles of karate – Goju-Ryu, Shito-Ryu, Shotokan-Ryu and Wado-Ryu – is scored based on speed, rhythm, balance, sharpness and other factors.

Performing her routine in a hushed, spectator-less Nippon Budokan arena, the spiritual home of Japanese martial arts in Tokyo, Sanchez scored 28.06 against Shimizu’s 27.88.

The pair had scored head-and-shoulders above the rest in the elimination round to face off in the final, as widely expected.

The two had battled it out in a memorable tie-breaker match in the same arena two years ago that Shimizu won.

The win adds to a long and successful run for the 39-year-old Spaniard, whose 36-medal haul at the sport’s top-billed Karate 1 Premier League has already earned her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

“It’s crazy. I’m feeling so many things at once. I’m happy but I want to cry,” said Sanchez, who also celebrated her five-year wedding anniversary with her husband-coach Jesus del Moral.

“I think I need more time to believe that this is real.”

As the two performed, photographers lining the square stage got busier, their camera shutters adding to the sounds of the competitors’ snap-cracking dogi and mid-routine shouts.

The “kumite” sparring category presented a more open field, but France’s Steven Da Costa came through to win gold as the reigning world champion in the men’s -67kg category beat Turkey’s Eray Samdan in the final.

Kazakhstan’s Darkhan Assadilov and Jordan’s Abdel Rahman Almasatfa took bronze – the latter winning only the third Olympic medal for his country and the first outside taekwondo.

In the women’s -55kg category, Bulgaria’s Ivet Goranova defeated Ukraine’s Anzhelika Terliuga to win gold, while Austria’s Bettina Plank and Taiwan’s Wen Tzuyun took the bronze.