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At age 29, karateka Tom Scott has won just about all there is to win in his sport.
He’s won more than a handful of U.S. Opens, North American championships and Pan American championships, and earlier this month he won his third Pan American Games medal — and second gold — when defeating Brazil’s Hernani Verissimo in a thrilling 2-1 final in Lima, Peru.
Now, the Texan has set his sights on one of sport’s ultimate rewards: the honor of being an Olympian. In 2016, a near 40-year quest to add karate to the Games ended when the International Olympic Committee voted to include the sport for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“Thinking too hard about it, stressing out, that’s not going to help me get there,” Scott said. “What’s going to get me there is punching well, kicking well, moving with confidence. I have to get down to enjoying the simple things. That’s been the game plan of late.”
“I didn’t spend two years thinking of one date on the calendar,” he added. “I really try to embrace the whole journey.”
Just 10 men from around the world will qualify for Tokyo in Scott’s event, the middleweight (75 kg.) kumite division. Karatekas have three opportunities to earn their spot in Tokyo.
Scott, currently ranked sixth in the Olympic Standing with the top four punching their ticket that way, says the prospect of Tokyo 2020 hasn’t changed his training plan one iota.
One key competition is just a couple weeks from now: an Olympic test event in downtown Tokyo’s renowned Nippon Budokan, built for the judo competition at the 1964 Olympics. From there, it’s on to Santiago, Chile; Moscow; and Madrid. The international tour — Scott calls it “a wild ride” — finishes up in mid-November.
If and when he qualifies for the Games, which will be known next spring, Scott may be the last to know.
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“Olympic rankings have been open for karate for almost exactly a year now and I still haven’t checked,” he said. “I let my coach (Brody Burns) check. When all is said and done, if I do qualify, I’ll think that’s pretty cool I never checked.”
“I still have my goals outside of the Olympics,” he added. “For someone like me, that helps me have a better shot of putting off the anxiety of it all. Knock on wood, so far things are going well.”
They certainly went well in Lima, where the U.S. karate team brought home four gold medals, plus two silvers and one bronze.
“It was the second-best overall performance ever, only the 1999 team had one or two more gold medals, so we’re feeling good,” Scott said, adding that he made a concerted effort to forget about the Olympics while in Peru.
“If my mind starting wandering on things that were just distractions — like how this would play out in Olympic qualifying, or what it would earn to win or lose — I would pull it back and focus on the strategy for Brazil, the strategy for Dominican (Republic), and just punches and kicks. That helped me keep everything really centered and was a big part of how we obtained success.”
Scott also gives much credit to Burns, the Sensei and coach who has trained him at the Academy of Classical Karate in Plano, Texas, for more than 20 years. When he’s not traveling, Scott teaches many of the academy’s 279 students, who range in age from 3 to senior citizens.
“Brody has set it up for me to work there full-time,” he said. “That creates an atmosphere where I can train, work out and travel with complete and total support. So many athletes have to think of school or work outside of their training, and that can be very stressful. He’s taken that off of the table.”
When his schedule permits, Scott — who holds a master’s degree in innovation and entrepreneurship from the University of Texas — markets the benefits of karate throughout the Plano area.
“Most people start karate because they’re little and their parents want them to focus or to develop self-discipline,” he said. “We want to spread awareness. We have an amazing sport that also carries the benefits of the karate lifestyle. Self-discipline is inherent, respect is a part of it, you can’t escape it. It’s a wonderful combination of sport and lifestyle.”
Of course, Scott’s time will be limited the next few months as he makes his bid for the Tokyo Games. He and Burns plan to keep things simple, with the focus on punching well, kicking well and moving with confidence.
“Our strategies and tactics that we went into Lima with really worked,” Scott said. “We’ve been honing it all summer. I’m excited to see how this mindset works with the Europeans, Japanese and Iranians. I think it’s going to be great.
“The more I focus on myself, the better it is. I try to avoid very specific game plans for (opponents). Everyone at this level can do every technique. … Regardless what my opponent does I can set the tone for my movement, the way I step off the line. That can build confidence for any opponent.”
Lynn Rutherford is a sportswriter based out of New York. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.