The women's solo kata competition kicked off karate's first foray into the Olympics on Thursday with the 10 karateka performing routines in a hushed, spectator-less Nippon Budokan arena, the spiritual home of Japanese martial arts in Tokyo.
In the elimination and ranking rounds, the two "queens of kata" — Japan's Kiyou Shimizu and Spain's Sandra Sanchez — scored head-and-shoulders above the rest, as widely expected, to advance to the final contest for karate's maiden gold.
As the two performed, photographers lining the square stage got busier, their camera shutters adding to the only other sounds of the competitors' snap-cracking dogi and mid-routine shouts.
In kata, 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.
"There are many emotions right now," Sanchez said of making her debut on the Olympic stage after the early session. "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.
The execution of the three-minute kata, which come 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.
The kumite sparring category presented a more open field, with reigning world champion in the men's under-67 kg category, France's Steven Da Costa, losing one of his four elimination-round bouts to Jordan's Abdel Rahman Almasatfa.
Da Costa will face Kazakhstan's Darkhan Assadilov and Almasatfa will fight Turkey's Eray Samdan in the semifinals.
In kumite, one to three points are rewarded with proper strikes: yuko for a punch to the head or body is worth one point; waza-ari, for kicks to the mid-section is two points; and ippon, for a kick to the head or any scoring technique delivered to an opponent who has fallen, gets three points.
Competition in the women's under-55 kg category will also follow in the evening session along with medal events for the three categories.
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