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51st Senior European Championships, 5-8 May 2016 - Montpellier, France
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The Team certainly looked apprehensive on the morning of the first day of the European Championships. Sitting in the hotel lobby, waiting for the coach to take them to the stadium, they all seemed quiet and without the usual banter. The stress must have got to Mitchell Priestly, or how could he explain leaving his gi (Karate suit) in the wardrobe of his room? The EKF President had to go and bring it to the stadium.
First to compete was Kieron Nunkoo in the male cadet kata. Kieron won a Bronze Medal in the Europeans in Azerbaijan in 2012 and has spent a year training hard and developing. In the 1st round he beat his Greek opponent 5-0 with the kata 'Annan', a good, positive start. In the 2nd round, he faced Russia, performing 'Chatanyora Kushanku', requiring a lot of skill; there is also a jump in the kata that he landed perfectly and won 5-0. In the 3rd round against Austria, Kieron chose 'Ninpopo' kata, showing great timing and again winning 5-0. This took him to the semi-final against Spain, a country with an impressive reputation in kata. Kieron performed the kata 'Suparimpei' to a very high standard, timing a spin and jumping kick to perfection and again winning 5-0. He was then in the final which was to take place later in the day.
Kira Munns-Charlton was next in the female cadet kata. She had a bye in the first round and in the 2nd, met an excellent competitor from Slovakia, who beat her 5-0. She did perform well, though, and should be proud of herself. Kira was unlucky not to be allowed a place in the repechage.
Emma Lucraft is already the holder of England's only ever world kata medal, but her pool in the female under 21 kata seemed incredibly difficult. In the 1st round, she performed 'Annan' against her Macedonian opponent and edged it 3-2. In the second round, she faced Slovakia and the holder of 3 European Gold Medals and 2 World Bronze Medals. Emma had to use her best kata, 'Chatanyara', and performed with great power, landing the jump perfectly and winning 3-2. The next round was against the twice European Champion from Italy, forcing her to perform another of her best katas, Suparimpei', which she did well and won 4-1. Emma was in the semi-final against the current Gold Medallist from Spain and performed a fantastic 'Unshu' to take her into the European final. An unbelievable morning for England!
The example of the Kata Team certainly seemed to give a sense of determination to the Kumite Team, knowing that there were two already in the finals. There were 5 fighting areas and three male cadets were up practically all at once. Mitchell Priestly seemed relaxed and confident, winning his first bout 3-1. The level of face contact allowed in these categories was low, leading to seemingly good techniques resulting in warnings. The next bout was very close, but at 2-2, Mitchell's Serbian opponent struck him the face once too often and was disqualified. Mitchell showed excellent control and composure, beating is next opponent 1-0 and securing a place in the quarter-finals. The next bout was against Greece, where Mitchell this time had some excellent techniques disallowed and he was beaten 3-0, with no repechage place. Still, a worthy 7th place in Europe.
The Parris brothers, Cuba and Bleu, were in the under 52Kg and 57Kg categories respectively. They are both great fighters with enormous potential. Cuba started well, beating his Swiss opponent 3-0. In the second round, he faced one of the outstanding competitors of that category from Turkey, who decimated all his opponents, yet only managed 1-0 against Cuba. The Turkish competitor went on to win the event 7-0 in the final. Cuba won his first bout in the repechage when his Belorussian opponent was disqualified. He was then drawn against a fighter from Bosnia, who won 2-0, after a very close bout, with lots of points that resulted in warnings, rather than scores. Another 7th place in Europe..
Bleu Parris really looked on form, beating an opponent from Spain 3-1 in the first bout and then a fighter from Portugal 5-3 in the second. He found himself in the semi-final against a Bosnian and appeared in control, without either competitor seeming to be able to score, when the Bosnian edged it 1-0, though Bleu looked the better fighter. The way the scoring went, he was straight into the repechage final and was unlucky to lose 1-0 to Scotland. 5th place!
There three female cadets were next. Katie Dalzell was in the under 47Kg category. She had a bye in the 1st round and then couldn't really get her distance right against an excellent opponent from Montenegro, losing 5-0. Because the Montenegro fighter had also had a bye, Katie found herself straight into the repechage second round. She fought an epic contest against Turkey who led 1-0 for most of the bout, forcing Katie to keep pressing and attacking her. With 10 seconds to go, Katie kicked her opponent round the back for two points! With three seconds going to a repechage final and a Bronze Medal for the winner, the Turkish girl threw a desperate head kick which made contact and 3 points. In Katie's corner was her own club instructor, Assistant Englad Coach, Paul Newby, who was not best pleased, though he had to admit, she still reached 7th place!
Fran Hardcastle fought very well in the under 54Kg category, winning her first fight 1-0 against Finland. She then beat an excellent Turkish fighter 3-1. In the 3rd round, she drew Azerbaijan and neither fighter could score, until Fran's opponent landed a kick for 3 points and sealing the bout. In the repechage, Fran's opponent was from Slovenia and again, neither could score and the Slovenian was awarded the bout on 'flags'.
Nikkisha Bailey fought in the over 54Kg category. She won her first bout 2-1, but never seemed to reach her potential. She was beaten 4-0 by Portugal in the second round and no place in the repechage.
The last Kumite competitor was Brice Luke in the under 70Kg category. He fought brilliantly in a very hard pool. His first bout was against Serbia and he went 3-0 down to a head kick, only to pull it back to 3-3 with a spectacular 'sweep' technique. Bryce scored again to take him into the second round. He lost 4-0 to an excellent Turkish competitor, but the score line doesn't show how close the bout was, with Bryce being scored on as he tried to even the score. He was then in the repechage, reaching the finals, after beating a Swedish fighter 1-0 and a Slovakian opponent 3-1. This was the Bronze Medal bout, but Bryce was unable to beat a very cagey French competitor.
So no Kumite medals, despite some very close bouts. This was a shame, because it was so great to see England defeating very high standard opposition. Of the seven fighters that took part today, five of them were placed 7th or better.
The opening ceremony was interesting with traditional Turkish musicians and dancers. All the countries lined up, then the team representatives paraded past the European and World President and General Secretary.
The finals then came after the ceremony was over. Kieron Nunkoo was up against Portugal who went first. The Portuguese competitor showed a few moments where he 'wobbled' a little. Kieron performed 'Unshu' kata with strength, precision and grace (according to a senior member of the WKF Referees Commission). He won the Gold Medal for England 5-0 and made two pieces of history: the first to win this category and then to win without a single flag being awarded against him. European Champion - well done!
Emma Lucraft was next up and despite her best katas being used up to get to this stage, she still managed an excellent 'Paiku' kata. Her Russian opponent performed a reasonable 'Chinte' kata, but Emma was given the decision 5-0 on flags. Again, history having been made: we have never had two kata medallists, let alone European Champions! Well done again, Emma.
Huge positive comment and feedback was received from other countries on how kata in England has improved in recent years. Much of this is attributable to the work of National Kata Coach, Jonathan Mottram. After these wonderful results, he had this to say: "Thank you to the EKF for supporting me as National Kata Coach and giving me the opportunity to coach a fantastic team." What else is there to say?
More news tomorrow from Day 2.
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