What Olympian Sakura Kokumai Will Be Taking With Her to the Tokyo Games

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Many Olympic athletes have been dreaming of their first games since they began their sports as little kids. But for Sakura Kokumai, who will be representing Team USA for karate in Tokyo, that wasn’t an option when she started the sport at age 7. Fast forward 21 years: karate has been added to the Olympic roster, and Kokumai’s heading to Tokyo, the first American to qualify for the karate games and, of the four Team USA karate delegates, the only woman. “I feel good, nervous, excited, all those emotions bundled into one,” says Kokumai. “I’ve been preparing for this moment for so long, that I’m just excited it’s going to happen.”

With a little less than two weeks before the Opening Ceremonies on July 23rd, the pressure is on for Team USA. Karate will be one of five new sports to the Olympics, along with skateboarding, surfing, softball/baseball, and climbing. While Kokumai is certainly excited, the students she’s been teaching over Zoom for the past year and a half are as well. “This is one thing the kids never imagined, being able to watch karate on the TV let alone at the Olympics,” Kokumai says. 

But what do you pack for the opportunity of a lifetime? Well, luckily for Kokumai, some things are already sorted. Upon arrival, Kokumai will receive her clothing for the opening and closing ceremonies, designed by Ralph Lauren. A classic navy blazer with a US Olympic team patch on one side and the signature Ralph Lauren polo horse on the other, a navy and white striped tee, and a red white and blue scarf make up the smart, classically All-American uniform. As temperatures in Japan will be high, the flag bearer’s jacket comes equipped with a cooling device (lucky them!). For the closing ceremonies, Team USA will be decked out in white jeans and matching windbreakers with—of course!—red and blue accents. “As a karate athlete I never thought I would be in this position,” Kokumai says. “Overall it’s such an amazing thing to be able to wear their clothing and to represent my country, it’s such an honor.”

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Though she says, ““I don’t have any superstitions or anything that I have to pack,” Kokumai will be bringing along two competition gis (the traditional white karate attire) and two for training. “It’ll be super hot in Japan and very humid, so I’m going to make sure I bring extra,” she says. For training, she’ll also have “lots of” resistance bands, Panasonic noise cancelling headphones (she likes to listen to Kelly Clarkson to get hyped up), and plenty of water for that Tokyo humidity. 

For a piece of home—fans won’t be allowed to attend the Games due to COVID-19 restrictions—Kokumai will be bringing along a special American flag with the Team USA logo that she’s had friends, family, and teammates sign with a personal message. “It was something I was carrying with me as I was going through the Olympic qualifier,” she explains. “I was traveling to a new country every two to three weeks and I was never home. It was something to bring along with me. Over this extra year, I’ve gotten people who haven’t been able to sign it to sign it. It’s more full than a year ago. Silver lining with the COVID-19 situation.” Regardless of whether Kokumai medals at the Games or not, she’s already making history and inspiring the next generation—in an unprecedented year, no less.

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