Kraig Devlin of Victoria realizes the rarity of his Olympic moment and is cherishing it all the more in Tokyo because of it.
Karate is included in the 2020 Summer Games on a one-time basis because of its historic connection to Japan. With the martial sports judo, Taekwondo, wrestling and boxing already regulars on the Olympic agenda, it is unlikely karate will be included again after Tokyo. So, karate’s Games debut today is also its swan song.
“It’s unique and cool — our own Olympics in Japan,” said Devlin, high-performance director and team leader of the Canadian Olympic karate squad in Tokyo.
Actually, it’s a one-competitor team with 2019 Lima Pan Am Games silver-medallist Daniel Gaysinsky of Ontario the lone Canadian qualifier, and who opens this morning in the men’s 75-kilo kumite division.
Devlin and Gaysinsky have a tight bond and Devlin has brought him out to Victoria several times to instruct Island youth.
“Daniel is awesome with kids and loves to coach,” said Devlin.
The two were together in Paris in June for the dramatic last-chance Olympic qualifier, Gaysinsky on the mat and Devlin coaching from the chair. Gaysinsky qualified for Tokyo, but only after a foul against him was reversed after video review, following an official protest lodged by Devlin challenging the foul call.
“It’s been a roller-coaster but Daniel is resilient and talented,” said Devlin, a 27-year veteran of the Saanich Fire Department.
“It is a testament to Daniel we are [in] Tokyo. We definitely believe he is a podium contender.”
And in comfortable conditions in hot and humid Tokyo.
“At least we’re not competing outside like soccer, rugby and track,” said Devlin, head coach of the Varsity Performance Karate Club in Saanich.
Devlin is hoping the Olympic exposure, as fleeting as it will be, will help karate grow across Canada.
“I started in the sport in Victoria in 1984, became B.C. coach and then moved on to the national team, so it’s been a natural progression,” he said.
Now it’s led to the Olympics. Even if it’s a one-off, it’s an opportunity Devlin said he is appreciative of, and for which he feels a sense of responsibility, considering the circumstances of the pandemic.
“We want to keep the Japanese public safe because they are shouldering the whole Olympics,” said Devlin.
“The COC has been incredibly organized in that regard with a huge logistical support team. We feel very prepared, in terms of protocols,”
More than 75 Island or Island-based athletes are competing in the Tokyo Olympics and Tokyo Paralympics to follow this month. Devlin is among the nearly 20 coaches, team leaders, medical and support staff from the Island in Tokyo.