A day after his compatriot conceded karate’s maiden Olympic gold medal to her Spanish rival, Japan’s Ryo Kiyuna looks set to collect the goods on Friday as he dominated the men’s kata competition with lofty scores that were a cut above the rest.
While the women’s kata event between the perennial top two — Spain’s Sandra Sanchez Jaime and Japan’s Kiyou Shimizu — was a close affair, Kiyuna’s gold seems inevitable, with his high marks drawing gasps from some in the arena.
The 31-year-old native of Okinawa — the birthplace of karate — has said the Games’ one-year postponement had given him time to build up more muscle and heft. He has also worked to polish what his master calls “artistic awareness” by incorporating the Ryumai, or local Okinawan dance, into his regimen.
“I’m simply going to focus on expressing here what I do in the dojo,” he said after reaching the final at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan, the spiritual home of Japanese traditional martial arts.
With his 365-days-a-year training regimen under the tutelage of karate legend Tsuguo Sakumoto, Kiyuna said earlier this month he was “ready to compete any time” and confident of achieving a perfect score of 30.0.
Kiyuna has hardly a loss to his name over the past few years, mesmerizing judges with his air-splitting punch, sharpness, precision and presence on the tatami.
In the elimination and ranking rounds, Kiyuna consistently scored above 28.0 while his closest opponent, finalist Damian Quintero of Spain, topped off at 27.40.
In the kata discipline, practitioners demonstrate offensive and defensive techniques against a virtual opponent, choosing from 102 forms with esoteric-sounding names like Kururunta and Chatanyara Kushanku that they yell out before they begin.
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 and other factors.
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