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It was nearly a perfect stage for Japan’s Kiyou Shimizu: The Olympics, in her home country, as her sport makes its long-anticipated debut at Nippon Budokan — the mecca for martial arts in Japan.

For Shimizu — who came up short in the women’s kata final against Spaniard Sandra Sanchez Jaime on Thursday night — silver was not the result she was hoping for and that may sting for a while.

It is often said that no matter how many global events an athlete has competed in and no matter how many titles they’ve won, the Olympics is a different animal and it’s difficult for many to perform at their best on the biggest stage in sports.

That might have been the case for Shimizu.

“I was calm in the beginning, but there were parts where I lost my breath or rushed, which is usually my weak point,” Shimizu said after the event. “It would have been better if I had been able to do that part calmly. I’m disappointed that I didn’t do as well as I had practiced.”

Perhaps for the majority who watched Thursday’s final, Sanchez Jaime and Shimizu each performed flawlessly, with both performing Chatanyara Kushanku, a series of predetermined moves and skills. But the Japanese karateka knew she was a little off and it made a slight difference in the points.

“I got carried away and couldn’t get into my usual rhythm, and my center of gravity and standing were not as stable as usual,” Shimizu said.

Silver medalist Kiyou Shimizu said that she was grateful that the sport’s profile was raised through the Games and that it was a privilege to be able to perform at Nippon Budokan. | REUTERS
Silver medalist Kiyou Shimizu said that she was grateful that the sport’s profile was raised through the Games and that it was a privilege to be able to perform at Nippon Budokan. | REUTERS

It had been a grind for Shimizu in recent years.

She had been the discipline’s queen up until a few years ago, capturing gold medals at the 2014 and 2016 world championships, but Sanchez Jaime got the best of her at the 2018 event. Shimizu racked up seven consecutive national championship titles but the streak came to an end when she finished as the runner-up last December.

“I’ve had years that I kept winning, but I’ve lost more often since I was chosen for the Olympics. I’ve had tough times mentally and there was a time I even wanted to keep a distance from karate,” Shimizu said. “But fortunately, I’ve had support from my family, coaches and many others and that’s why I was able to compete at this stage.”

And Shimizu wasn’t completely devastated after her Olympics appearance was over, either. The Osaka native said that she was grateful that the sport’s profile was raised through the Games and that it was a privilege to be able to perform at Nippon Budokan, originally built for the 1964 Olympics and considered the home of martial arts in Japan.

“Nippon Budokan is a special … stage that I’ve wanted to stand on since I was a little and I’m pleased that I did so competing at the Tokyo Olympics,” Shimizu said. “I wish I could win because the Games are being hosted in the country where karate originated. But it was an honor that I was able to perform.”

Karate will not be included in the program for the 2024 Paris Games, but Shimizu insisted that the sport made “a significant first step” toward gaining more recognition and popularity going forward.

“Our kata disciplines are watched by so many who perhaps have never seen it before through this Olympics,” She said. “I’m happy that they saw my performances as well and it’s a significant first step that there are so many people, including children, that get to know what kata is all about.”

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