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51st Senior European Championships, 5-8 May 2016 - Montpellier, France
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Today is Team Kumite day. One can feel the passion and energy as 60-odd male teams start to warm up. With so many teams, resilience and determination will be as important as skill. First up for England was Chinese Taipei, a team weakened by injuries, so a good first round draw. Alton Brown and Jordan Thomas were convincing winners. The next round was one of the most unfortunate draws possible: Algeria. This team is a favourite, all the competitors are skilful, determined and most of all, huge! Alton Brown fought well, but was narrowly beaten. Tom Hickman led against his opponent with a great kick to the body, but didn't seem to have the experience to hold on. Third up was Ryan Jay, who initially took the lead, but then had difficulty dealing with the sheer physicality of the opposition. Algeria looked like potential champions until they reached the Semi-Final against Turkey. Their first fighter was 7-0 up within the first minute against France then knocked his opponent clean unconscious and was disqualified. The contest was a series of examples of poor luck/judgement and they were eliminated, denying England a place in the repechage.
The Ladies Team looked good. Their first round was against a quality Australian Team. Natalie Williams was first on and drew her bout. Next was Kate Karwacinski who also drew. It was left to the impressive Carla Burkitt who beat her opponent convincingly 3-0. Next round was against an awesome Chinese Team, all of whom were tall and skilful. Kate was picked off with long range techniques and seemed to lack the experience to change tactics, despite Head Coach, Willie Thomas, shouting frantically from the sidelines. Natalie went behind early and was counter-punched as she tried to claw back the deficit. The Chinese girls looked unbeatable and reached the Semi-Final against France. In the first fight, the Chinese competitor beat the French girl 8-0! In the second bout, the French competitor Lolita Dona, seemed unable to get anywhere like scoring and was 2-0 down with a few seconds to go, when the Chinese competitor, probably thinking about celebrating reaching a World Final, lost concentration and was hit by a head kick for 3 points. The French champion won the last bout, thus eliminating England. Disappointing, as our team was capable of a medal.
Friday night is traditionally the opening ceremony. This one had been hyped quite a bit by the French, but not without reason as it was incredible. Live music from an excellent jazz-rock band and the first part was the parade of all the countries. This was well organised and the teams all looked happy. Tom Hickman carried our flag, though why Gavin Bailey chose to walk the full length of the arena with his hands in his pockets is difficult to fathom. The ceremony was truly world class, with dancers and acrobats suspended from the roof. In the semi darkness a team of specialist police officers abseiled down SAS-style to the sound of the 'Mission Impossible' theme and lit huge letters spelling out the word KARATE. Any IOC person present would certainly be struck by what Karate has to offer. This has certainly been the most impressive World Championships anyone has ever seen.
The England Team has been disappointed, but the majority of them are juniors and this championships has showed them that they have the potential to come back and win. They are united, there is lots of friendly banter and ribbing, not just at Davin Pack's hairstyle and Paul Newby's pictures on advertisements for martial arts equipment. We have even learned that Willie Thomas' many accomplishments includes having taught 'salsa' dancing and the whole Squad are looking forward to a demonstration. Most of all, though, very young competitors like Ross Mathieu, Jordan Thomas and Carla Burkitt know what the highest level of competition is like and are keen to come back and prove themselves. This is very encouraging for the future.
Tomorrow the finals begin and Jonathan Mottram is up against World Champion Luca Valdesi. EKF Board member John De Bono has been ironing his gi for him. We know he will give his very best.
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