Grace Lau Mo-sheung, 29, from Hong Kong, at a press conference on July 16, made it clear that she did not interfere with preparations for the Olympics.
Ranked fourth in the world, with an outgoing and bubbly personality, she is a female kata karate athlete. She was the first athlete from Hong Kong to win a medal in the sport, in her case bronze at the World Championships in Madrid, Spain, in 2018. In the same year, she won a bronze medal at the Asian Games, losing narrowly against the Japanese Kiyo Shimizu, ranked second in the world.
The discipline of karate is divided into two forms. Kata, the first, consists of performing defensive and offensive movements in front of a panel of judges. Kumite, the second, is the classic match between two athletes competing against each other, and what many of us have in mind when considering karate as a martial art.
Listening to her training camp in Miami, Florida, Lau explained how, in her first Olympic appearance, she aimed to win one of four medals (karate has two bronze medals), among the ten most competitive kata athletes in the world. .
Hong Kong head coach William Thomas told reporters that they asked Lau to receive the menu at the Olympic Village, so that she could already start adjusting her diet, helping to avoid any distractions. during the Olympic period.
Thomas showed his confidence in Lau’s abilities as an athlete, commenting in his opening remarks: “Grace is the full package, they’re not going to see the same athlete they saw 12 months ago. . She has a strong technical element in her game.
Lau is also known to experiment with new training techniques, including the Gyrotonic Method, invented by a Hungarian dancer, to increase flexibility, movement and recovery from injuries.
Thomas, 55, is from the UK. He himself is a former karate athlete in the discipline of kumite, with several medals to his name at the World Karate Championships, and his son Jordan Thomas is an Olympic athlete representing the United Kingdom, also in karate kumite. .
We caught up with Grace Lau and William Thomas to hear what they had to say about the upcoming Games where karate is expected to take center stage, and their thoughts on preparing for competition. Excerpts from the interview follow.
What was your reaction when you heard that Tokyo 2020 was going to offer karate?
Grace: I was very happy and excited because I remembered how the World Karate Federation had been promoted for a few years, and eventually we got the sport at the Olympics. The feeling was “YES! We did it!”
At that time, however, I didn’t think I would qualify as I still did a few years ago, I still hadn’t won my medal at the world championships, I was trying to do my best to every competition and see what was going on.
When I had the world [championship] medal, I realized that maybe I had a chance. I was training hard, doing my best in competition, and now I’m here. I am very proud to say that I am an Olympian!
Do you have a message for young fans, and people who approach sports?
Grace: I have received so many texts from children and friends in Japan who have asked me to do a seminar after the competition. They said, “You are so amazing, you are participating in the Olympics, you have this opportunity! “
I can’t come this time, which I’m really sorry, because I was really hoping to be able to attend [the seminar], but that’s not possible because of COVID. I want to tell everyone that I hope I can see them soon. With my Olympic medal, I will continue to train hard and one day maybe we can meet in competition!
What are you preparing in this last stage of the training?
Grace: The most important thing is my head. I am always a person focused on the little details, I want to be perfect. It means that sometimes I don’t accept myself as someone imperfect.
Therefore, I try to focus on doing my best on a given day. Maybe what I did today was not as good as it was yesterday, but I accept that it is the best I can do today. We have to move on, because maybe tomorrow will be better. Technically I’m ready, but in my head I have to accept when things don’t go as planned.
As a kata coach, what do you bring from your athletic experience?
William: I was taught traditionally. I have a solid understanding of karate. Being an international athlete, I have always had the chance to watch the best in the world, consistently over a 14-year period.
My experiences as an athlete that carry over to my training, rather than to the physical side, are more of the lessons I learned: dealing with failure, but also dealing with success, dealing with stress.
It’s about really motivating and keeping the athletes, and being aware of my body language as a coach because that can reflect on them. Essentially, it’s about making sure they’re fresh under pressure.
I also bring my peak experience [performance] for events and how to approach the big day.
Grace was stranded abroad for eight months during COVID, and you once said “all she’s done is eat, sleep and train.” What have been the challenges of distance learning?
William: It was an unprecedented time and there was no manual to follow. The only thing you can follow is the principles.
We monitored Grace’s coaching environment, a small group which is a very good, positive environment for her. We would make sure she had advice, not only for the physical, technical and tactical side, but also the social aspect for her mental health, a key aspect for many during the pandemic.
The biggest challenge was to think about the psychology, to make sure that I speak with the coaches there, that I hit the base with Grace so that anything that comes up gets dealt with early.
The actual training and the karate was the easy part, this is the time when you can practice and forget about everything else.
What was it like arriving in Hong Kong as the UK coach in 2017?
William: When I first arrived, I had to rely on my coaching principles, which apply to everyone. Then you need to get to know each athlete – what makes them tick and how they react under pressure.
Their motivations might include studying, as many athletes also study. They could have a career, they could be driven by ambition. Knowing this makes it easier for me to communicate with the person, instead of just seeing them as a collective cultural body.
Getting to know the individual characters is what allowed me to grow in the fold and truly establish myself as a head coach here in Hong Kong.
With karate first showcased at the Olympics, what do you hope it will bring to newcomers to the sport?
William: I hope karate will really be broadcast and increase participation. Here in Hong Kong, they’re going to see Grace on TV, and I hope everyone can say “oh I wanna do that, where can I do that? “
I am sure the same story will be reflected around the world. Once people see him he gets that exposure, of course I think the turnout will increase. This would collectively make him better for karate as a whole.
Do you have a message for Japanese fans?
William: We can’t wait to go to Japan. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to travel, see and experience Japanese culture, which is a real shame. Would have been great to have the local crowd so it was disappointing that we didn’t get the full experience the hosts wanted us to have. But we always can’t wait to come, and we’re going to make it a big event. We know that karate is a national sport and anchored in the Japanese community. We’re going to go there and we’re going to show it to the world.
Author: Arielle Busetto