UCL bag two medals while karate captain seals off a hat trick in a dramatic turn of events.
UCLU Karate Club took their largest ever squad to this year’s BUCS Finals, and the twelve-strong team came home with two medals. UCL Elite Athletes Paul Padda and Anna James-Bott took home bronze and silver in the male senior kata and female senior heavyweight kumite respectively, Padda’s third medal in four years, and former president James-Bott’s third piece of silverware in as many BUCS Finals.
The event started on Saturday 18th February with the kata events. Kata – a series of moves demonstrating punches, kicks and grabs against imagined opponents – was competed in in both individual and team events; while UCL were unable to field a team kata squad due to an administrative error, four members of the team participated in the individual category. 8th kyu Ahmed Muse, in his first year in the club, competed in the male novice category, and despite elimination in the first round to an eventual finalist, rallied to perform admirably in the repechage event, a separate knockout competition for those eliminated by finalists.
In the senior categories, UCL fielded three athletes. Former president Phil Compton returned from a year’s absence from the club to compete in the first round and suffer a narrow 2-3 defeat, and Sarah Zheng, in her first year in the club, also reached the first round. However, the undoubted star was Padda, who both overwhelmed and squeaked past his opponents – winning some rounds by a judges’ score of 5-0, and others 3-2 – before losing to the eventual silver medallist. However, he too rallied to storm the repechage, winning all of his games in the event to take the bronze medal. The award is the latest addition to his large collection of silverware, as he now boasts a pair of bronze BUCS medals, and a silver.
That afternoon, the team kumite events took place. These events involved point-based sparring, with scores awarded for punches and kicks to the body and head. The five-person male team was matched up against a tough Exeter squad, and lost their opening three rounds to suffer a quick 0-3 defeat. Vice president Tony Chung and Compton opened the bout, before this reporter, matched up against a black belt despite only having three years of karate experience behind them, suffered a quick 0-8 loss, consigning the team to defeat.
The female team included three members, first-year member Yi Dong, treasurer and defending individual kumite champion Lauren Perieres, and James-Bott; despite the latter comfortably winning her bout 10-0, her teammates faced tougher opposition, and both suffered defeats, eliminating UCL in the first round again. However, the experience was a positive one for both squads; this was the first time a male kumite team had been entered, and members of both teams appreciated the opportunity to practice kumite prior to the individual events the following day. Special credit must go to Dong, who stayed for the team event despite mounting deadlines, displaying an impressive commitment to the squad matched only by her impressively swift exit to board the first train back to London and the UCL main library.
The Sunday brought a full day of individual kumite, starting with UCL’s large novice squad. Eneko Pascual, Rathan Prabhaharan, Ahmed Muse, Mickey Lee and yours truly all suffered defeat in the first round of the event, despite spirited performances from all; Lee recovered to compete in the repechage, yet failed to progress to a medal position, and I was disqualified for continuous excessive force penalties with 20 seconds remaining in my bout, despite leading 1-0 on points. Perieres’ title defence started well, as she won 3-0 in the first round with a trademark kick to the head, but suffered a surprising 0-4 defeat in her second fight.
UCL’s novices were plagued by a lack of competitive experience, with three of the team making their kumite debuts on the Sunday; the techniques and combinations that they had practised in training didn’t translate to the BUCS tatami, a reflection of their lack of practice at this level, as opposed to a lack of skill. For instance, my force penalties could have been avoided had I focused my punches to the body of my opponent, but instead became too excited in the midst of the round, and swung wildly for dramatic blows to the head, leading to the penalties.
The team’s senior fighters fared better; Compton and Chung were both eliminated in the first round, but in tense, tight affairs. Chung lost 0-2 in a tentative, slow fight, in which both competitors were twice penalised for time wasting, where punches and kicks were launched infrequently; it was only by landing his hits a fraction of a second slower than his opponent that UCL’s vice president suffered defeat. Compton’s round was even more dramatic; falling behind 0-1 early on, he rallied to score a beautiful kick to the head to take a 3-1 lead with ninety seconds to go. Yet his year-long absence from competition was evident as he slowed down in the second half of the fight, failing to consistently protect himself and allowing his opponent to score three single-point punches, and grind out a narrow 4-3 win. Both of UCL’s senior men were evenly matched with their opponents, and the two defeats are a reflection of minor differences in speed and athleticism.
James-Bott, meanwhile, stormed to the final of the female senior heavyweight kumite, dispatching her three prior opponents with only two points conceded, and a stunning 10-0 victory in the first round that she finished off with an excellent kick to the head. She overwhelmed her opponents through a series of simple, yet perfectly-executed techniques and combinations, picking up points for body blows throughout each of her fights, to grind her opponents down. As each round progressed, and her advantage continued to grow, her opponents were forced to try increasingly desperate kicks and combinations, leaving themselves vulnerable to well-timed counter-punches.
Her semi-final fight was a heated affair, in which her opponent consistently delivered late blows to the UCL captain, including a particularly delayed kick to the head after the referee had stopped the fight to award James-Bott a point. Her opponent also pulled her to the ground several times and was not penalised, frustrating the assembled UCL support. Despite winning 6-2, James-Bott suffered an injured jaw, and spent the hours before her final that evening with an ice pack held to her face.
In the final, under the dimmed lights and spotlights of Ponds Forge, James-Bott lost 0-2 to an athlete from King’s College, again to the chagrin of the UCL supporters. The King’s fighter scored the first point of the round, meaning James-Bott trailed for the first time in the competition, and she was somewhat rattled, unable to grind down her opponent from a winning position as she had done all weekend. However, James-Bott kept the fight close, pressuring her opponent, and ultimately losing by one of the narrowest margins.
The result left UCL’s captain with her third kumite medal in three years, and her second consecutive silver; with a postgraduate place at Oxford beckoning, she finished her UCL karate career on a high and, along with Padda in the kata category, will compete in the European games this summer in Portugal.
Featured: JP Casey