Junna wins gold in Lisbon, primes up for qualifying
Junna Tsukii’s confidence certainly soared sky-high with her recent triumph in the Karate 1-Premier League.
But more than the victory, it opened a clear path on the likelihood of the gutsy Filipino-Japanese karateka to claim a seat in the Tokyo Olympics.
After ending up on top of the medal podium in the female kumite -50 kg, Tsukii already punished every probable foe on her path in the coming Olympic qualification on June 11 to June 13 in Paris, France.
“This is my first gold medal on the world stage. To everybody who supported me to this point, this medal is for you,”said the 29-year-old Tsukii on her Instagram post following her 2-0 win over Moldir Zhangbyrbay of Kazakhstan in the meet held in Lisbon, Portugal.
All the reigning Southeast Asian Games champion and 2018 Asian Games bronze medalist needed was a roundhouse kick late Sunday night that hit Zhangbyrbay for an effective “waza-ari,” a score worth two points.
“Junna has a big chance in the Paris qualifying. She has defeated all possible opponents in the qualifying,” said Karate Pilipinas president Ricky Lim.
Tsukii defeated top contender Sara Bahmanyar of Iran, dominated Daniela Gallego of Colombia and toppled Radwa Sayed of Egypt to top the pool in the first round before beating two-time world champion Alexandra Recchia in the semifinals that arranged the gold-medal meeting with Zhangbyrbay.
“Junna was more composed, relaxed and confident. Her emotions are under control the whole time and strictly followed the game plan,” said Lim.
Tsukii, born in Pasay City and migrated to Japan at the age of 3 before learning karate under the tutelage of her father, gained a lot of ranking points with the victory, but Lim said it wasn’t enough to get her an automatic Olympic qualification.
Ranked 15th in the -50 kg prior to the Lisbon tourney, Lim said Tsukii would move up to No. 9 or 10 in the world rankings.
“My matches were very difficult. You can tell that the top karatekas in the world are here,” said Tsukii told wkf.net.
With the final Olympic qualifier presenting a ray of hope, Tsukii needs to end up with a medal in the Paris meet to secure passage to join Team Philippines in Tokyo.
“The good thing about the qualifying tournament in Paris is that all the strongest opponents in her division have already qualified,” said Lim.
Tsukii is now fixing her flight plans going to Istanbul, Turkey, to join the national karatedo team. The Turkey training is supposed to end May 15, but Lim has requested to extend the camp until June 6 before they jump off to Paris. INQ