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Men’s kata king Ryo Kiyuna captured his ninth straight Emperor’s Cup while Kiyou Shimizu failed to keep her streak alive in the women’s event at the 48th All-Japan Cup Karatedo, the annual national karate championship, at the Nippon Budokan on Sunday.

Kiyuna, a heavy favorite to win gold for Japan at next summer’s Tokyo Olympics, outscored Kazumasa Moto 28.74-27.60 with his performance of a convincing Anan kata in the men’s final to win at the annual event

Kiyuna’s ninth straight title moves him past Ryoki Abe for the longest streak in either the kata (forms) or kumite (sparring) categories.

“I still have areas that I need to correct, but I think I was able to give the best I have for now,” Kiyuna said. “I think my step work was good during my horizontal moves.”

Kiyuna said he’s never competed with records in mind, and insisted his nine straight titles are the result of his dedication to fulfill his own potential.

“I haven’t put in the effort to set a new record,” the three-time defending world champion said. “I’ve just continued my hard work and it’s paid off. But I’m happy. This was the final tournament of the year and I wanted to give myself momentum toward next year (for the Olympics).”

While everyone saw another title for Kiyuna coming, Shimizu’s loss left the crowd stunned at the Nippon Budokan, which will also serve as the venue for the sport at the Summer Games.

The 27-year-old fell to Hikaru Ono 27.42-26.94 in the women’s kata final, ending her run of consecutive titles at seven — one shy of the women’s kata record, held by Atsuko Wakai.

It was an incredible triumph for Ono, who won her first Empress’ Cup and said afterward that she’d never beaten Shimizu in a head-to-head match. The 28-year-old finished second behind Shimizu in the 2016 and 2017 editions of the tourney and also has three third-place finishes.

“It’s been a long journey to get here,” said Ono, who burst into tears moment’s after the scores were announced. “I’ve been fighting with support from those who’ve helped me, and this is what I’ve always dreamed of. I had hoped to earn a ticket to the Olympics over the past three years, but I ended up failing. There have been some tough times for me, so I’m really happy with this title.”

Ono said Shimizu has been a rival who has pushed her to where she is today and someone she had to beat in order to become a better karateka.

“I usually don’t compare myself with anyone else or how anyone else performs,” Ono said. “But (Shimizu) has been someone I needed to overcome. Because she has always been running ahead of me, I’ve been able to endure the tough times.”

Shimizu hinted that the long layoff from competition because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the majority of domestic and international tournaments to be called off, had affected her performance. She said she wasn’t able to enter the tournament fully confident.

“I’d say I wasn’t strong enough mentally. I don’t think what I’ve done in my practices has been wrong,” Shimizu said. “There are a ton of issues I need to fix before the Olympics. It was the first tournament in a while and I wasn’t exactly sure how I was supposed to do. I regret that my streak has ended, and am frustrated. I don’t think I can win at the Olympics if I stay where I am right now.”

In the kumite, Yusei Sakiyama and Yuzuki Sawai became first-time winners of the Emperor’s Cup and Empress’ Cup, respectively, on Sunday.

Sakiyama beat reigning champ Hiroto Gomyo 2-0 in the title match while Sawae defeated fellow Teikyo University student Airi Shima 7-4 in the final.

It was a difficult day for a couple of karateka who have already clinched Olympic berths, with the popular Ayumi Uekusa and Miho Miyahara both falling in the early rounds. Uekusa is a past champion who had a four-year win streak in the discipline from 2015.

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