What’s new: After nearly half a century of efforts to include karate in the Olympics, the Japanese martial art finally makes its debut on a temporary basis as only one of the five sports added to the Tokyo program. Athletes will compete in two disciplines: kumite (combat against an opponent) and kata (demonstration of form, often compared to floor exercises in gymnastics). Karate won’t be in Paris in three years, but organizers hope it will get another chance in Tokyo if it proves to be compelling.
Tokyo Expectations: The field includes 82 karatekas from at least 36 countries, and individual winners are not as important to many karate fans as an overall recreational tournament in karate’s big moment under the Olympic spotlight. … three-quarters of the athletes are competing in kumite, where fans can expect to see the competitive fire that draws millions to the sport, even though the usual five weight classes in Tokyo have been narrowed to three. Go. … Competitions are being contested in the final three days of the Olympics, and it is not clear whether this will help or harm the visibility of the Games. … The tournament has the added significance of being held in Nippon Budokan, the beloved temple of martial arts.
Athletes to watch: Spain’s Sandra Sanchez, a 39-year-old late-bloomer who has won six consecutive European Championships gold medals, is the favorite in the women’s kata. His top rival is Kiyu Shimizu of Japan. … Former world champion Ryutaro Araga could be Japan’s top medal hope in the men’s kumite events, while Miho Miyahara and Ayumi Ukusa are former world champions in the women’s category. … Steven da Costa of France is a strong contender for gold, but he faces stiff competition from Angelo Cresenzo of Italy in the men’s 67kg. … Rafael Aghayev, 36, of Azerbaijan, has won five world championships, but only one since 2010. He could face Iran’s Bahman Asghari, who won the men’s 75kg world championship in 2018.
Gold medal moments: August 5: Men’s 67kg, Women’s 55kg, Women’s Kata; August 6: Men’s 75kg, Women’s 61kg, Men’s Kata; 7 August: Men’s +75kg, Women’s +61kg.