Before the 2016 Olympic Games had even started in Rio, martial arts had already won big thanks to a monumental decision by the International Olympic Committee. On Wednesday, August 5, members of the IOC unanimously voted to include Karate, along with baseball/softball, skateboard, climbing, and surfing, in the 2020 edition of the Games in Tokyo. Combined, the new sports will add 18 events and 474 athletes to the Olympics. Karate’s contributions to those numbers will be organized by the World Karate Federation and will feature competition in kata and Kumite.
This moment was a game-changer for the Karate family, who have worked hard and waited a long time – with a few near misses along the way – to have their discipline included in the most prestigious sporting event of all. It’s particularly exciting for the young athletes who now face the possibility of becoming Olympians four short years from now, like our own Destiny Vergara, who watched the historic vote live.
The 14-year-old AWMA sponsored athlete first took up Karate when she was 4. “I was just like any other kid who saw martial arts in action movies and thought I knew how to do all of the fancy stuff,” she told this blog in an e-mail interview. “I didn’t realize there was more to it than what you see in movies. My parents took me to a karate school called Shotojuku and signed me up for an intro class. I enjoyed it…. ALOT! After about a year and a half, I started competing in local tournaments and did well. My first big competitive out of state tournament was the USA National karate championship in 2009. I was 7 at the time and I placed first place in both kata and Kumite in 10 year old division. After that experience I wanted to continue pushing myself in other competitions.”
Destiny also began dreaming about becoming an Olympian some day and followed her discipline’s 2012 bid for inclusion very closely. “I was so hopeful during that time. I even remember doing a school project with the sloan ‘The K is On The Way,’ which was the karate campaign that was created to bring attention to Karate and how it should be voted as a sport in the Olympics.”
When the IOC did not vote in favor of including Karate at that time, she didn’t give up hope. Nor did she despair when a bid to join the 2016 games also failed. In fact, watching the brilliant young gymnast Gabby Douglas’s groundbreaking performance at the London Games, where she won Gold in both Team and Individual All-Around, only strengthened Destiny’s resolve. “I have been dreaming about being in the Olympics for very long time, but didn’t really realize how possible it could have been and how much it meant to me until I watched Gabby Douglas in the 2012 games accomplish her dreams. She really inspired me and made me want that same dream more than ever.”
By the time that the 2020 vote happened last week, Destiny knew that things were about to turn in Karate’s favor. “I was nervous, but mostly anxious and excited for the announcement to be official,” she told us of her mindset when she sat down to watch the proceedings. “I already new that this time it was going to be a successful vote because of the enormous amount of campaigning, I felt confident. In 2020 I’ll be 18 and the doors will just be opening for me but what really excites me is that the athletes that inspired me and have paved the way are coming back for this opportunity. Seeing the adults that have been competing since they were my age and winning National, International, and World titles have this chance to fulfill their dreams is so cool. Hopefully I can inspire younger kids like my little brother and sister one day.”
Officially having the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games is important to Destiny for a number of reasons. “To be Olympic Athlete would mean that I have made it to the biggest and most prestigious competition in the world. It gives me goosebumps to imagine myself representing my country as an Olympian. Now that Karate is an Olympic sport, I hope that colleges can now use this opportunity to create scholarships just like they have for many other Olympic sports. Financial support would be awesome for students athletes.”
Another of our Olympic hopefuls, Kieran Tamondong, who is a current member of USA Jr National Karate’s team for the PKF Junior-Cadet Championships in Guayaquil, Ecuador later this month, was also excited by the news. “I was so happy,” the AWMA sponsored athlete told us via e-mail. “Not just for me but for everyone who loves Karate and has been waiting such a long time for this moment to happen. There have been so many people have worked so hard and for so many years to make this dream come true. This makes us all proud that karate will now be included in the Olympics for everyone to appreciate and enjoy. I’m also really excited to see the Olympic rings in my dojo and in dojos all over the world.”
Kieran is already a highly-decorated competitor, but he thinks there’s something special about this particular event. “The Olympics is the biggest stage in the world. When I’m watching the Olympics on TV, you can tell that every athlete there has trained so hard to be the best the world in their sport. To me, it would be my greatest honor to be able to represent my country, my family and my dojo as an Olympic athlete and as an Olympic medal winner.”
As for whether this announcement will change the way that the two Karate stars train and compete over the next four years, Kieran says, “I think the overall level of competition will be keep getting better and much stronger. Not only will the current elite karate athletes train harder to earn a spot to compete in future Olympics, but athletes who may have chosen other sports in the past will now consider training in Karate because it is now an Olympic sport. However, my training objectives will stay the same. I will keep working harder to be stronger, faster and more focused and I always try be better than I was at the last competition.”
As far as Destiny is concerned, she believes that the 2020 news both will and won’t change her course of action. “I was going to keep training hard no matter what, but yes, it definitely has given me the motivation to know in the next four years or eight years, I WILL have the opportunity of a lifetime. The Olympics is now one of my ultimate goals.”
Want to train like Destiny and Kieran? Our Olympic hopeful suggests the following Proforce products:
– Proforce Duffle Bag: “It holds all of my equipment (which is a lot) for competition.”
– Proforce Lightning Kicks: “I love to wear them around the tournament venue on competition day. They are really comfortable and look good.”
– Proforce Diamond kumite and kata Gi (available for purchase soon – see our other Diamond Gis here): It’s approved by the WKF and Destiny uses it for training and competition. Kieran is also a fan:
“I have been using the ProForce Diamond Gi since 2014. I have worn other Gi’s but this one is very special to me. When I see photos or watch videos, the gi always has a clean and crisp look and love that it fits me really well. I also love that it has a really nice snapping sound when I’m executing good technique. Now that I’m on the USA Jr National Karate Team, I will be going to Ecuador to compete at the Jr Pan American Championships next week. At all WKF competitions, all athletes are required to wear WKF approved Gi’s. I’m happy to say that I will be the first international competitor to wear AWMA’s new WKF approved ProForce Kata Gi. I’ve practiced in it a few times and it really is amazing. It has an excellent fit and it looks great. The most important quality to me is that the AWMA WKF ProForce Kata Gi makes me feel comfortable and confident when performing all of my katas.”