Sakura Kokumai, from YMCA to Japan to host family, becomes first U.S. Olympic karate qualifier

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Sakura Kokumai, a first-generation American whose parents are from Japan, became the first U.S. Olympic qualifier in the new Olympic sport of karate.

World Karate announced the first 40 global qualifiers on Wednesday, taking the four highest-ranked athletes per gender in the eight Olympic medal events after the final qualifying tournaments were canceled due to the coronavirus. One host-nation athlete from Japan also qualified per event.

Kokumai, a 27-year-old, eight-time national champion ranked fifth in the world in the kata discipline, was the lone American among those first qualifiers. It came at the end of a two-year qualifying process with more than 20 competitions.

“I’ve known for about two weeks, but I’ve just been waiting for that last confirmation,” Kokumai said, noting she found out via social media. “So that waiting part was super hard. But as soon as I got it … I think everything that I was holding on kind of released then. I was excited, happy, everything that I went through kind of just all the emotions came out all at once.”

The other karate discipline, kumite, is the head-to-head fighting discipline. In kata, athletes complete a series of predetermined movements and are judged on speed, strength, focus, breathing, balance and rhythm.

Kokumai, born in Hawaii, began taking karate lessons at age 7 at a local YMCA. She eventually moved to Japan to study (earning a master’s in international culture and communication), train and work.

“Karate in Japan is like what football is to here,” Kokumai said in November. “You can get scholarships, like sports scholarships, like big time from junior high, high school to college, and even after college you can find a job in a company and still do karate representing that company.”

Two or three years ago, Kokumai’s coach died and she moved back to the U.S. A family friend in Santa Clarita, Calif., offered a bedroom to her.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted training for many U.S. Olympic hopefuls, but karate can be practiced anywhere.

“So that’s something we’re all thankful for, especially for kata athletes, for our discipline,” Kokumai said from California, where she has always trained by herself. “It’s a good thing that karate doesn’t need much equipment. All we have to do is keep on training with the space we have. So in that sense, I’m not too worried at all. I actually shouldn’t be because the environment for me hasn’t really changed in terms of training. So just trying to just praying that it all goes away.”

NBC Senior Olympic Researcher Rachel Thompson contributed to this report.

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Jack Crawford of Canada stuns super-G favorites at Alpine skiing worlds

Jack Crawford
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Canadian Jack Crawford was the upset winner of the world Alpine skiing championships men’s super-G by the closest possible margin — one hundredth of a second — in Courchevel, France.

Crawford earned his first career top-level victory, edging Norwegian co-favorite Aleksander Aamodt Kilde on Thursday.

“It has a ring to it,” the new world champion told Austrian broadcaster ORF. “I definitely wasn’t expecting anything today. I didn’t even bring my hat for an interview.”

France’s Alexis Pinturault took bronze, relegating the other pre-race favorite, Swiss Marco Odermatt, to fourth place.

River Radamus was the top American in 16th, two spots ahead of countryman and Olympic silver medalist Ryan Cochran-Siegle.

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Crawford, 25, won on the eve of the first anniversary of his first top-level podium, a combined bronze at the Olympics. Since, he earned his first three World Cup podiums, but no wins and a best super-G finish this season of sixth.

He became the latest Canadian to take a surprise world title after, most recently, Erik Guay in the super-G in 2017, plus his coach, John Kucera, in the downhill in 2009.

Kilde and Odermatt combined to win all six World Cup super-Gs this season going into worlds.

Kilde earned his first world championships medal on Thursday after Olympic silver and bronze last year.

Odermatt, the Olympic giant slalom champion and World Cup overall champion, is still seeking his first world championships medal.

Pinturault continued his strong worlds after winning the combined on Tuesday at his home resort. He also took super-G bronze at the last worlds in 2021.

The 31-year-old, who reportedly had retirement cross his mind after his first winless World Cup season in 11 years, now has seven individual world medals, one more than the French legend Jean-Claude Killy.

Worlds continue Saturday with the women’s downhill without Mikaela Shiffrin. She often skips downhills on the World Cup and has never raced it at worlds.

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2023 World Alpine Skiing Championships results

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Top 10 and notable results from the 2023 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Meribel and Courchevel, France …

Women’s Combined
Gold: Federica Brignone (ITA) — 1:57.47
Silver: Wendy Holdener (SUI) — +1.62
Bronze: Ricarda Haaser (AUT) — +2.26
4. Ramona Siebenhofer (AUT) — +2.48
5. Franziska Gritsch (AUT) — +2.71
6. Michelle Gisin (SUI) — +3.43
7. Laura Gauche (FRA) — +3.71
8. Emma Aicher (GER) — +3.78
9. Elena Curtoni (ITA) — +4.05
10. Marie-Michele Gagnon (CAN) — +4.91
13. Bella Wright (USA) — +6.21
DSQ (slalom). Mikaela Shiffrin (USA)
DNS (slalom). Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI)
DNS (slalom). Ragnhild Mowinckel (NOR)
DNS (slalom). Sofia Goggia (ITA)
DNF (super-G). Marta Bassino (ITA)
DNF (super-G). Breezy Johnson (USA)
DNF (super-G). Tricia Mangan (USA)

ALPINE WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

Men’s Combined
Gold: Alexis Pinturault (FRA) — 1:53.31
Silver: Marco Schwarz (AUT) — +.10
Bronze: Raphael Haaser (AUT) — +.44
4. River Radamus (USA) — +.69
5. Atle Lie McGrath (NOR) — +.72
6. Loic Meillard (SUI) — +1.20
7. Tobias Kastlunger (ITA) — +2.99
8. Albert Ortega (ESP) — +3.50
9. Erik Arvidsson (USA) — +4.43
10. Ryan Cochran-Siegle (USA) — +5.25
DNF (slalom). Johannes Strolz (AUT)
DNF (slalom). Luke Winters (USA)
DNS (slalom). Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (NOR)
DNS (slalom). James Crawford (CAN)
DSQ (super-G). Marco Odermatt (SUI)

Women’s Super-G
Gold: Marta Bassino (ITA) — 1:28.06
Silver: Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) — +.11
Bronze: Cornelia Huetter (AUT) — +.33
Bronze: Kajsa Vickhoff Lie (NOR) — +.33
5. Ragnhild Mowinckel (NOR) — +.36
6. Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI) — +.37
7. Alice Robinson (NZL) — +.54
8. Federica Brignone (ITA) — +.55
9. Tessa Worley (FRA) — +.58
10. Michelle Gisin (SUI) — +.69
11. Sofia Goggia (ITA) — +.76
24. Breezy Johnson (USA) — +2.09
DNF. Tricia Mangan (USA)
DNF. Bella Wright (USA)

Men’s Super-G
Gold: Jack Crawford (CAN) — 1:07.22
Silver: Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (NOR) — +.01

Bronze: Alexis Pinturault (FRA) — +.26
4. Marco Odermatt (SUI) — +.37
5. Raphael Haaser (AUT) — +.58
6. Marco Schwarz (AUT) — +.59
7. Adrian Smiseth Sejersted (NOR) — +.62
8. Loic Meillard (SUI) — +.65
9. Brodie Seger (CAN) — +.67
9. Andreas Sander (GER) — +.67
12. Vincent Kriechmayr (AUT) — +.87
16. River Radamus (USA) — +1.30
17. Kyle Negomir (USA) — +1.48
18. Ryan Cochran-Siegle (USA) — +1.52

Women’s Downhill (Feb. 11)
Men’s Downhill (Feb. 12)
Team Parallel (Feb. 14)
Men’s Parallel (Feb. 15)
Women’s Parallel (Feb. 15)
Women’s Giant Slalom (Feb. 16)
Men’s Giant Slalom (Feb. 17)
Women’s Slalom (Feb. 18)
Men’s Slalom (Feb. 19)

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