The Stade Pierre de Coubertin is the last stop before karate’s Olympic dream comes true.
A multinational assortment of karatekas descending upon the 16th Arrondissement in Paris from June 11-13 will finalize the roster for Tokyo 2020.
It’s a completing of a circle. One might even say an Olympic ring.
The arena’s namesake, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was the founder of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and known by many as the father of the modern Olympic Games.
de Coubertin was the second IOC president, and Paris was the site of the second Summer Olympic Games in 1900. It was a new generation of that same body — the IOC — that added karate to the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020 August 3, 2016.
WKF Pres. Antonio Espinos says, "As we are heading to arguably the most important moments in the history of our sport, it is quite fitting that the last stage in the qualification process to our Olympic debut will be held at Stade Pierre de Coubertin in Paris.
"Karate is an Olympic sport, our discipline has repeatedly proved that it deserves to be permanently included in the Olympic programme; this weekend, in the venue named after the founder of the International Olympic Committee, we will once again showcase our added value to the Olympic movement".
Some 495 athletes and 98 nations are registered for the tournament. It will result in 24 karatekas (the top three in each of the eight Olympic categories) moving on to compete in karate’s first-ever Olympic competition. After Paris, a slate of 80 men and women will move on to Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan to compete on the largest international stage in the sport's history.
France will enter seven competitors in the qualifier, with current World Champion Steven Dacosta competing already qualified in the men’s -67 kg Kumite. The host nation is a karate hotbed, with over 160,000 affiliates and more than 5,000 karate clubs, according to the World Karate Federation (WKF).
"The Karate family has been waiting for the Olympic debut of our sport for so long that we are absolutely thrilled with the possibility of having our athletes finally wearing their karategis at the sports’ biggest stage in Tokyo," Espinos said.
"Due to the outstanding progress of our discipline over the years, we are convinced that Karate will be a huge success at the Olympic Games. Our ideals of respect, honour, determination, are values that remain at the true core of Karate and will make our sport one of the highlights of the event."
The Tokyo 2020 qualifiers will be a round robin event, unlike traditional "knockout" tournaments. There will be a round of elimination matches, and then the two finalists and the two winners of the repechage, or "wild card" round will compete in an "all-against-all" format. From that pool of karatekas, the top three ranked will medal and qualify for the Tokyo 2020 tournament.
Fans should keep an eye out for 24-year-old Dorota Banaszcyk of Poland, competing in women’s Kumite -55 kg, the 2018 Kumite World Champion, and 27-year-old Eleni Chatziliadou of Greece, 2018 Kumite World Champion in the +68 kg class. Other women to watch are 32-year-old French karateka Alexandra Recchia, a two-time gold medalist in the women's kumite 50 kg event at the 2010 and 2012 World Karate Championships and a two-time gold medalist in at the 2013 and 2016 European Karate Championships. Alisa Buchinger, 28, of Austria also brings an international championship pedigree, winning the gold medal in the women's Kumite 68 kg at the 2016 World Karate Championships in her home nation. She was the European Karate Championships gold medalist in 2015 and 2017.
On the men’s side, top competitors include 31-year-old Amir Mehdizadeh of Iran, gold medalist in 60 kg Kumite at the 2014 Asian Games and taking gold at both the 2012 and 2016 World Karate Championships. Briton Jordan Thomas, 29, took the gold medal in -67 kg Kumite at the 2016 World Championships.
The Paris Qualification Tournament is scheduled to begin on Friday June 11 at 9 a.m. Central European Summer Time with elimination rounds in Women’s Kata and Men’s Kata, and in the Men’s -67 kg Kumite and Women’s -55 kg Kumite. Day 1 events conclude at 8 p.m. and Saturday June 12’s events follow the same time schedule. Sunday June 13 the tournament runs from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Saturday’s Day 2 events include Men’s Kata and Women’s Kumite -61 kg and Men’s Kumite in the -75 kg class. Day 3 on Sunday will see karatekas battle in the Women’s Kumite +61 kg and Men’s Kumite +75 kg.
The Paris Qualification Tournament will be streamed live on the WKF YouTube channel.
"We are absolutely convinced that the Karate 2020 Qualification Tournament will be a memorable sporting event," said Pres. Espinos. "It will be forever remembered not only as one of the most spectacular tournaments in the history of our sport; it will also be a manifestation of the sporting spirit, excitement, and many values of Karate. Fans can be ready for three unforgettable days of action, and I hope that all the members of our family and all the fans of the sport follow the event through our platforms."
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