By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr.
The USA National Karate Federation (USA-NKF) is the national governing body for sport karate and the only karate organization that is a member of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committees. During the summer of 2020 at the Tokyo Olympic Games in Japan, karate made its debut.
Personally, it was a great day for me. Back in the early 1980’s I was a member of the USA National Team and represented our country in numerous karate events worldwide. In 1987, I suffered a knee injury that not only stopped my karate career, but also my law enforcement job. So, I became a coach and administrator with the organization.
The late George Anderson was our national president and had a vision in the 1980’s of getting karate into the Olympic Games. He knew that in order to make the big show, the national governing body had to be a member of the , the Pan American Union (which governs North, Central and South America) and the World Governing Body. Anderson accomplished all the marks and when karate was acceptedUSOC into the 1995 Pan American Games, he knew this was our opportunity.
However, the USOC was not going to allow karate to travel to Argentina and compete at the games. I was a national vice president at that time and was tasked to work with legislatures. Congressman Frank Pallone, Senator Bill Bradley and Senator Ted Stevens worked with me and as a result of that effort, karate was granted travel one week before the 1995 Pan American Games. That was the first step towards the Olympics, and Anderson honored me with the Man of the Year award.
So, 25 years later, karate made its debut in the Olympic Games in Japan, the country that gave us the sport. The United States had four athletes make the journey and one, Ariel Torres, came home with a Bronze Medal.
Making the USA National Team is something that is not open to any athlete. Only the best of the best in the United States are invited to the trials after undergoing qualifying tournaments throughout the year. For the 2023 tryouts, I had an opportunity to bring USA Karate and the USOC to Long Branch for the trials.
Saturday, February 19, over 150 athletes from all over the United States and 75 world class officials were at the Long Branch High School for the trials. Mayor John Pallone welcomed everyone and was thrilled watching the competition. “This is such a monumental accomplishment having this prestigious event in our city,” said Pallone.
Jason Corley, Athletic Administrator for Long Branch High School, was a big help in securing the facility. He was able to make sure we didn’t interfere with any of the teams. “This was one of the coolest sporting events I have watched,” said Corley. He also addressed the large crowd before the action started.
Michael Cain, Chief Executive Officer of USA Karate, who had just started in this new position 18 days prior, could not get over the facilities at the High School and how receptive the staff was. “Mr. Mayor, thank you for having us in Long Branch and after we win at the Pan American Games, we will make sure to send something to the city as a thank you,” said Cain. Before taking on the USA Karate position, he was lead administrator for USA Track and Field at the 2004 Olympics in Greece.
Elisa Au, a three-time World Champion, is the current Chairwoman and USOPC Alternate AAC Rep., was on hand along with other members of the Board of Directors. “The 2023 USA senior team trials were a huge success, and now we are looking forward to showcasing our National Team in international events this year,” said Au. By the age of 18, Au had won three WKO World Championships and two WKC World Championships. She is the most decorated female karate athlete in USA Karate. “It was fantastic to hold the trials in Long Branch, in a new venue, with lots of support from fans from the tri-state area. A special thank you to the organizing committee for hosting such a great event. We hope to be back in the wonderful city in the future.”
Torres, who won the Bronze Medal in Japan, took first in male kata (forms) at the trials. Besides Torres, the other three Olympians from Japan who were at Long Branch High School were Tom Scott, Sakura Kokumai and Brian Irr.
For a complete list of the 2023 USA Karate Trials results please Click Here:
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