Karate will make long-awaited Olympic debut in Tokyo

WHAT’S NEW: After nearly a half-century of attempts to add karate to the Olympics, the Japanese martial art finally makes its debut on a temporary basis as one of five sports added only to the Tokyo program. The athletes will compete in two disciplines: kumite (sparring against an opponent) and kata (a demonstration of form, often compared to a floor exercise in gymnastics). Karate won’t be in Paris in three years, but organizers remain hopeful it will get another chance if it proves compelling in Tokyo.

TOKYO EXPECTATIONS: The field contains 82 karateka from at least 36 countries, and the individual winners aren’t as important to many karate aficionados as an overall entertaining tournament in karate’s big moment under the Olympic spotlight. … Three-fourths of the athletes are competing in kumite, where fans can expect to see the competitive fire that attracts millions to the sport, even if the usual five weight classes are compressed to three in Tokyo. … The events are being contested on the final three days of the Olympics, and it isn’t clear whether that will help or hurt the sport’s visibility. … The tournament has the added gravitas of being held at the Nippon Budokan, the beloved shrine of martial arts.

ATHLETES TO WATCH: Spain’s Sandra Sánchez, a 39-year-old late-bloomer who has won gold in six straight European Championships, is among the favorites in women’s kata. Japan’s Kiyou Shimizu is her top rival. … Former world champion Ryutaro Araga could be host Japan’s top medal hopeful in the men’s kumite events, while Miho Miyahara and Ayumi Uekusa are former world champions in the women’s divisions. … France’s Steven Da Costa is a gold favorite, but faces stiff competition from Italy’s Angelo Crescenzo at men’s 67 kg. … Azerbaijan’s 36-year-old Rafael Aghayev has won five world championships, but just one since 2010. He could face Iran’s Bahman Asgari, who won a world championship in 2018, at men’s 75 kg.

GOLD MEDAL MOMENTS: Aug. 5: men’s 67 kg, women’s 55 kg, women’s kata; Aug. 6: men’s 75 kg, women’s 61 kg, men’s kata; Aug. 7: men’s +75 kg, women’s +61 kg.

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