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Spain’s ‘queen of kata’ takes maiden gold in Olympics debut

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Sandra Sanchez of Spain competes.

 Sandra Sanchez of Spain competes in the women’s individual kata in the Tokyo Olympics. REUTERS/Carl Recine

TOKYO—Spain’s Sandra Sanchez, known as the “queen of kata,” won karate’s maiden gold medal on Thursday, defeating perennial rival and hometown favorite Kiyou Shimizu in the sport’s historic debut at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

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 on Thursday.

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

Once written off as too old to compete at the highest levels, Sanchez said facing Shimizu at the Nippon Budokan, the spiritual home of Japanese martial arts, was the perfect final.

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

A tearful Shimizu said she was disappointed she had lost her breath and rushed through parts of her routine.

“I wanted to finish more comfortably,” said the 27-year-old.

“But for me, Sandra is an indispensable rival and I consider her a treasure who fuels my energy,” she said.

Kiyou Shimizu of Japan competes.

Kiyou Shimizu of Japan competes in the women’s individual kata in the Tokyo Olympics. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

Karate’s first gold-medal match between Sanchez and Shimizu involved not a single blow – only the sounds of their snap-cracking dogi and mid-routine shouts.

In the kata discipline, karatekas 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.

Performing her routine in a hushed, spectator-less arena, Sanchez scored 28.06 against Shimizu’s 27.88. The execution of the three-minute kata is scored based on speed, rhythm, balance, sharpness and other factors.

The two kata champions were the clear favorites to reach the final in a field of 10 competitors.

FRANCE, BULGARIA TAKE ‘KUMITE’ GOLDS

France's Steven Da Costa (R) competes against Turkey's Eray Samdan in the men's kumite -67kg final in the karate competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on August 5, 2021

France’s Steven Da Costa (R) competes against Turkey’s Eray Samdan in the men’s kumite -67kg final in the karate competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on August 5, 2021. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP)

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.

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