For the first time in 16 years, Newfoundland and Labrador hosted the national championships in karate over the long weekend.
The event brought between 500 and 600 athletes from across the country as well as over 2,000 spectators and officials to the Mary Brown's Centre in St. John's.
The event was a success for Karate Newfoundland and Labrador, says president and coach Nathaniel Besso.
Besso believes hosting a championship is an important step for the province to instill the passion for the sport in future generations of karate athletes, so-called karatekas.
"The young and the next generation athletes seeing this is probably the biggest goal of mine," said Besso.
"I myself was on the national team for the past six to seven years. So this was a big goal to bring this home and share the high-level karate that we have in this country."
Besso says karate has come a long way in the province, with many national champions since 2012.
"Since that point, we've been really accelerating our high-performance programs here and really putting a lot more funding toward developing our athletes, developing our coaches and officials," said Besso.
Besso calls his team's performance "excellent" considering its small size compared to other provinces, as it won one gold, one silver and two bronze medals.
Emily Reglar snatched gold for the province, and Faith Collier won bronze.
Reglar and Collier agree it's important to host championships to promote karate in the province.
"[It brings] a lot of awareness to karate and … it was done terrifically," said Reglar.
"Especially since COVID kind of took away our last two years," Collier added.
"It's been really nice just to be here and to be able to get this experience of having nationals on our home turf."
While karatekas won't be able to compete at the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris — karate won't be included — one athlete brought some Olympian flair to the championship event.
Daniel Gaysinsky competed for Canada in the 2022 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and finished seventh.
He says it was nice to compete for the first time again since his Olympic debut.
"This year the competition was amazing. Everyone worked really hard during COVID. So, the future looks so bright for Karate Canada," said Gaysinsky.
He believes disruptions to the sport caused by COVID haven't done any harm to athletes' performances.
"It made us more resilient. It made us dream even more and push harder," said Gaysinsky.
"Seeing everyone here, it's amazing how something that can shut down a whole world can bring people together as well."
The national president, Craig Vokey, agrees — it's good to see athletes back on the mat.
"The event overall is a fantastic success. Karate Newfoundland has been a wonderful host … For this event, this is a 10 out of 10," said Vokey.
Originally from St. John's himself, Vokey started karate at Memorial University and acted as official at the 2006 national championship at Memorial Stadium, the last time the competition was hosted by St. John's.
Since then, a lot has changed, he says.
"Newfoundland was always considered kind of a warm-up. But in the last 10 years or so, I have to say that Newfoundland, there's a gold medallist here from Newfoundland, there's a silver medallist from Newfoundland … Karate Newfoundland has come a long way," said Vokey.
"For a small province with a small population and the geography they are very competitive. It's just really good to see. And while I am neutral as a national president … I might smile a little extra when someone from the Rock is doing well."
The national championship is a key component for selecting both senior and junior squads of Team Canada before going into the Pan American Games in Chile next year, the World Games in Alabama at the end of July, and the Commonwealth Karate Federation Championships in England in September.
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