Karate: Albany athletes have high hopes

Athletes from the Albany recreation department program hope to make strong showings in the AAU Natio

Nick Breno stands, facing his opponent, and bows. They circle each other, balanced on the balls of their feet, then Breno moves in to strike.

Breno is an 11-year-old karate stud­ent from Albany who is competing in the Amateur Athletic Union National Karate Championship this week at the University at Albany’s SEFCU Arena.

The tournament started Tuesday, and the early rounds primarily involve younger athletes. The adults compete today and Saturday.

Breno’s event is called Kumite, where whichever athlete scores three points first wins. Points are scored by striking the stomach or head with a kick or punch using correct technique. Breno’s op­ponent tied the score, sending them into a sudden-death round. The tiebreaker only lasted a few seconds, as Breno threw a quick punch to the stomach to win the match.

More than 2,500 athletes from nearly 40 states compete every year in the AAU National Karate Championship, making it the largest karate tournament in the country. This year, the Albany Department of Recreation has 135 students participating.

Ten matches take place simultaneously on the arena floor. Each athlete wears head gear, a mouth guard and gloves for protection.

Tony Butler, the “Shihan,” or master karate instructor for the Albany recreation department, has trained many of the local athletes. He is a fifth-degree black belt and has been practicing karate for more than 30 years.

“It’s really hard to qualify for this event,” Butler said. “Each athlete has to first qualify through a district, then regional tournament, and the competition is steep.”

The event required three years of plannings and is a major tourn­ament for competitive karate. Butler estimates the tournament will generate over $7 million for the Albany economy, due to the large number of athletes and spectators from around the country.

“You have over 5,000 parents and spectators, plus all the athletes,” Butler said. “They are here for five days, they need hotel rooms, and they go out to dinner. This is big business.”

Kristen Dawson is a 20-year-old second degree black belt competing for Albany. She has been competing since she was 5, and has participated in 11 national championships.

“This is a great event, there is always new competition,” Dawson said. “Even if you beat someone one year, you know no one likes to lose, so they usually come back even better then next year.”

Dawson has already won a silver medal in the weapons competition, fighting with a long wooden staff called a bo. She also won gold in a team competition Thursday morning.

The main goal for Butler is the total team medal count. He is confident that competitors from the Albany recreation department will have a good standing this year.

“For the last six years, we’ve finished as one of the top three clubs in the country,” Butler said. “This year, we’ll be in the house because this is our house.”

There are matches from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, and the tournament resumes Saturday at 8 a.m., with the finals set for 5 p.m. A medal ceremony will follow.

Spectators may purchase a day pass for $15.

Categories: Sports

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