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Ryo Kiyuna captured Japan’s first-ever gold medal in karate at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday — and a first Olympic title for an athlete from Okinawa Prefecture — topping Spain’s Damian Quintero in the men’s kata final.

Kiyuna, who has not lost a competition since February 2018, scored 28.72 points out of 30 for his performance at Nippon Budokan, the spiritual home of Japanese martial arts.

Quintero claimed 27.66 points for silver in the head-to-head final against the Japanese. American Ariel Torres Gutierrez and Turkey’s Ali Sofuoglu picked up bronze medals.

“I want to express my appreciation for being able to compete at this stage. I wouldn’t have been able to compete here by myself so I am just so thankful,” Kiyuna said after winning the event that sees competitors perform choreographed movement in pursuit of points.

Karate is making its debut at the Tokyo Olympics, where competitions called kata and kumite are held. In women’s and men’s kata, athletes execute a series of defensive and offensive movements targeting a nonexistent opponent.

Japan's Ryo Kiyuna is awarded the gold medal over Spain's Damian Quintero after the final bout of the men's kata competition on Friday. | AFP-JIJI
Japan’s Ryo Kiyuna is awarded the gold medal over Spain’s Damian Quintero after the final bout of the men’s kata competition on Friday. | AFP-JIJI

Kiyuna’s gold was Japan’s second medal in karate, after Kiyou Shimizu claimed silver in the women’s kata on Thursday. Since the sport has been dropped from the program at the next Summer Olympics in Paris in 2024, the Tokyo Games may be the only time the sport is featured.

Okinawa Prefecture is the birthplace of the sport. Kiyuna is the three-time reigning world champion and has won nine straight national championships, making him a heavy favorite coming into the Tokyo Games.

Performing a kata called “Ohan Dai,” which featured variations of thrusting moves, Kiyuna won the judges over in the final with his sharp and powerful movements. His shouts of “kiai” resonated in the Nippon Budokan.

On Thursday, Kiyou Shimizu claimed silver behind gold medalist, Spain’s Sandra Sanchez Jaime, in the women’s kata for Japan’s first medal in the sport.

Supporters cheer for Japan's Ryo Kiyuna on Friday at Nippon Budokan. | AFP-JIJI
Supporters cheer for Japan’s Ryo Kiyuna on Friday at Nippon Budokan. | AFP-JIJI

In the competitive sparring discipline of kumite, Serbia’s Jovana Prekovic took the women’s 61-kilogram division by winning her bout against China’s Yin Xiaoyan. The bronze medals went to Turkey’s Merve Coban and Egypt’s Giana Lotfy.

Italy’s Luigi Busa took the men’s 75-kilogram title after beating Azerbaijan’s Rafael Aghayev. Stanislav Horuna of Ukraine and Karoly Gabor Harspataki of Hungary took bronze.

Japan’s Mayumi Someya and Ken Nishimura did not advance to the semifinals in the women’s 61-kg class and men’s 75-kg class, respectively.

Gold medalist Ryo Kiyuna of Japan and silver medalist Damian Quintero of Spain during the medal ceremony following the men's kata competition. | REUTERS
Gold medalist Ryo Kiyuna of Japan and silver medalist Damian Quintero of Spain during the medal ceremony following the men’s kata competition. | REUTERS

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