After a highly successful judo test event at the Nippon Budokan, karate followed suit with a fine display of the martial art at the legendary Japanese combat arena.
The competition, part of the Ready Steady Tokyo series, followed the same schedule as day two of next year’s Olympic competition, with both kata and kumite bouts contested.
More than 30 competitors participated, allowing organisers to evaluate the flow of the competition, and karate’s readiness for the big stage.
“I am so honoured to be a part of this,” said Japan’s Ruika Sao, who participated in both the kata and kumite. “I know that in a year, the best karatekas in the world will be competing here in the Nippon Budokan. I will root for them as a spectator.”
While the world’s top athletes weren’t at the test event, the previous three days at the Budokan had featured them competing there in the Karate 1-Premier League, the World Karate Federation’s flagship event. Tokyo was the fifth stop on the 2019 schedule, with two more to follow in Russia and Spain later this year. Points scored in the 1-Premier League count towards qualification for Tokyo 2020.
The final day of the 1-Premier League, Sunday, was sold out, with 14,000 locals enjoying the success of Japanese star Kiyou Shimizu, who took gold in the female kata event, defeating Sandra Sanchez of Spain after a tie-break.
“It was great to have such fantastic support from the stands,” Shimizu said. “The cheering of all the spectators gave me wings. It also gave me the responsibility to do my best to fulfil their expectations.”
Japan took another seven gold medals, in a sport that they will be targeting for success – alongside judo – at the Games next summer. The host nation won both the male and female team events.
“Nippon Budokan is the Mecca of martial arts and for me. This is the first place I wanted to compete in,” Shimizu said afterwards. “I am happy to be here and, as Japanese, it is my goal to show the best possible technique and to give my best athletic performance here.”
Fighters from across the world agreed, giving the venue and tournament the thumbs up. “The first thing that was on my mind when I stepped into the tatami this morning was that we would be competing in the Olympic Games right here next year,” Sanchez said.
“I took this event as preparation ahead of the Games, and I wanted to know what I would feel next year. It was a very thrilling moment for me. Hopefully, I will be able to experience it again.”
France’s Alizée Agier said: “I really enjoyed competing here in Nippon Budokan. Of course, I think about what will happen here next year, but I prefer to go step by step.”
Yasuo Mori, Deputy Executive Director of Tokyo 2020’s Games Operations Bureau, attended with World Karate Federation Secretary General Toshihisa Nagura, who was also pleased with the week’s outcomes.
“The Karate 1-Premier League Tokyo was an exciting event,” Nagura said. “It was very well organised and it was a huge success, with the arena completely full on the last day. It demonstrated what karate may offer during the Games.”
“Ready Steady Tokyo karate gave us a chance to test the competition schedule for karate at the Games,” Mori said.