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51st Senior European Championships, 5-8 May 2016 - Montpellier, France
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The venue for this World Karate Championships is unlike anything any of us have ever witnessed; 15,000 spectators, just about all the tickets sold, huge screens suspended form the roof and the deafening shouts of the crowd. Bercy is the symbolic venue for huge events in France and tickets for the finals at the week end have been sold out since April. It will certainly be an unforgettable experience for all those taking part.
The England Team has been positive, united and have worked hard to give each competitor the best possible chance, under Kumite Coach, Willie Thomas and his team and Kata Coach, Jonathan Mottram. There is a real sense that we are facing awesome challenges, but we are all keen to support each other.
The individual Kata events were first. Jonathan Mottram was in the best form ever, strong, fast and precise. He reached the quarter finals in impressive style against the best in the world. He faced the French Champion, Mihn Dack, a competitor very highly rated by our own Ticky Donovan, who had already eliminated the current World Silver Medallist and European Champion Luca Valdesi. Jon's Kata was fantastic, but the Frenchman edged it three flags to two. Jon fought on to win through to the repechage final in Saturday, where he will face Valdesi for the Bronze Medal.
Emma Lucraft, the only world Kata medallist in the history of English Karate, was on form, but was the victim of the surface. The mats are new and have a 'nylony' surface and Emma slipped slightly twice during her first Kata. This is shame as she was otherwise very impressive, but at this level, she could not get through. Emma is still very young and this is great experience for the upcoming Junior Europeans.
The extraordinarily high standard of this tournament were manifest in the Kumite events. Karim Al Gounied faced the current under 84Kgs World Champion from Serbia and went down valiantly. The Serb then lost to the Iranian in the second round, who lost Greece, who lost to Holland , who lost to France. This is unbelievable and shows the talent here.
Kate Karwacinski is another very young competitor who appeared daunted by the scale of the event. She attacked bravely, but seemed very nervous and was picked off by an excellent Spanish opponent. Kate has great potential for the future.
Te last England competitor of the day was The hugely experienced Alton Brown. Alton was one of our real hopes for a medal, but he has been carrying a hip injury he sustained in the Czech Open he attended as preparation for the Worlds, where he won Bronze. Alton looked sharp but without his usual fluid movement. Unfortunately he caused a slight cut to his Indonesian opponent's face and every exchange led to further warnings for Alton as the cut kept bleeding. Another shame as Alton went out to a clearly inferior opponent. This under 75 Kgs event was arguably the most difficult one of the Championships and this pool contained the awesome French Champion, Dona, the Italian European Champion, Busa and the now legendary World Champion, Rafael Aghayev.
Some disappointments, but nonetheless an incredible first day. Today also saw the first of the new categories for disabled athletes. This was only in the form of a demonstration event at this time. Russell Dowler and Verity Anderson were clearly so proud to be representing England. The event was moving and the shouts of the whole England Squad could be heard cheering our competitors on. It was a most encouraging display, some were really very good and this is a most positive contribution for Karate in the future.
The different culture included new experiences for some. Assistant Coach, Paul Newby, was introduced to artichokes, something he had never heard of. He did make the fair point that they did not grow in abundance on Ilkley Moor. EKF President, Carl Lindley, mentioned to the President of the French Federation that despite there being plenty of Champagne available, one could not obtain a cup of tea at the venue, only to be told that this was not the land of 'Rosbifs' (a French slang term for the English!)
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