Sakura Kokumai became the first woman ever to compete for the U.S. in karate at the Olympic Games, and with the sport’s future uncertain at the Games she may go down as the only woman to do so.
Despite the sport being off the schedule for Paris in 2024, however, competition continues and on Sunday the 29-year-old from Honolulu placed second in a matchup against the Olympic champion.
Kokumai competes in kata, a form of karate in which the athletes are judged on their performance of a series of set movements. This weekend she was in Moscow for the Karate 1-Premier League, the final event in the 2021 season and Kokumai’s last competition before the Panamerican Karate Federation Senior Championship in Uruguay. The world championships will be held in Dubai in November.
Kokumai had the highest score in her pool on the first day and advanced to the gold-medal final against Spain’s Sandra Sanchez. With both athletes performing the same kata, Sanchez scored 28.14 while Kokumai scored 25.8. In kata, athletes are scored based on technical elements, including transitional movements, stances and timing, as well as athletic elements, including strength, speed and balance.
Kokumai’s U.S. teammate Ariel Torres, a bronze medalist in Tokyo, finished fifth in men’s kata.
Kokumai finished fifth in Tokyo this summer. Her first competition after the Games was a Premier League event in Cairo, where she won the bronze medal. Afterward, she wrote on social media: “First competition after Olympics. After competing this weekend I realized I have a lot of things to work on… more premier leagues, continental competition and also World championships coming up this year. It’s gonna be busy…The competition karate life continues…
“Grateful for these opportunities and cannot wait to go home, rest, train and prepare for the next. Here we go.”