Antonio Díaz: The retirement can wait

Venezuelan Karateka Antonio Jose Diaz Fernandez performs his training of some basic positions of his Kata for competition in his Dojo during COVID-19 lockdown on April 22, 2020 (Photo by Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/Getty Images)
Venezuelan Karateka Antonio Jose Diaz Fernandez performs his training of some basic positions of his Kata for competition in his Dojo during COVID-19 lockdown on April 22, 2020 (Photo by Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/Getty Images)

The Venezuelan karateka, twice World Champion, will wait for the debut of his sport in the Olympic Games before finishing his career

For many years, Venezuelan Antonio Díaz has dreamed of the debut of his sport at the Olympic Games. Karate, one of the five new sports included in the Tokyo 2020 programme, has been on the verge of being in the Olympics on several occasions in the past.

But, finally, it will make its debut in the same country where the sport was born.

"I have waited 20 years to be able to participate in the Olympic Games, I can wait one more," he explains when asked about the postponement of the Games.

In the summer of 2021, Díaz will be 41-years-old, but that doesn't stop him from continuing his preparation for the much-desired Karate debut, rather it is his main motivation.

“Basically, the time for which I have lengthened my sports career is for the Tokyo Games. Throughout my years of competing, I have had several moments when I have thought about retirement. But I think the Olympic Games, the most important sporting event, and especially happening in Japan, the land of karate, is the perfect place to end it," he explains to Tokyo 2020.

View this post on Instagram

He tenido por más de 20 años el sueño de ir a unos Juegos Olímpicos. No hay problema alguno en esperar un año más. Seamos sensatos, es tiempo de quedarse en casa, lavarse las manos, no tocarse la cara y cuidar de nosotros para cuidar de los demás. #Tokyo2020 nos vemos en el 2021, cuando la comunidad deportiva se reúna nuevamente para demostrar que pudimos vencer esta pandemia todos juntos. _______ For more than 20 years I have had the dream of going to the Olympic Games. There is no problem in waiting another year. Let's be thoughtful, it's time to stay home, wash your hands, don't touch your face and take care of ourselves to take care of others. #Tokyo2020 see you in 2021, when the sports community will meet again to demonstrate that we were able to overcome this pandemic all together. _______ 📷 @andressilva_oficial #StayHome #StayStrong #StaySafe #Tokyo2020 #Olympics #QuedateEnCasa

A post shared by Antonio Diaz (@diazkarate) on

Without a doubt, the Tokyo Games will be the dream farewell to the career of an exemplary athlete who has been at the top of his sport for two decades.

Díaz's record is impressive. It includes being the 2010 and 2012 kata World Champion, whilst also winning World Games gold at 2005 Duisburg and Cali 2013, as well as topping at first place at the 16 Pan American Championships and 13 National Championships in his home country.

Díaz also holds the Guinness World Record for being the only athlete that has been in the podium eight times in a row at the World Karate Championships.

“There are many moments in my career that I would highlight, but perhaps I will stick with the second world championship. Of course, the first one was important, but the second one was like an award for perseverance and not giving up," he proudly recalls.

Unable to receive students, Antonio Díaz decided to broadcast lessons for his students through Zoom (Photo by Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/Getty Images)
Unable to receive students, Antonio Díaz decided to broadcast lessons for his students through Zoom (Photo by Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/Getty Images)
2020 Getty Images

Training at home

Right now, like many other athletes, Díaz is in his home country, spending most of the time at home. He returned to Caracas in March after competing in Austria and spent a few days in Tenerife, just a little before many countries began to close borders due to the situation caused by COVID19.

During the lockdown, he has taken the opportunity to spend time with his wife and eight-month-old son while training at home. With his spot secured for the Olympics, it is important for him not to lose his overall physical fitness.

“I have a small dojo in my parents house, so I did some sessions there the first week, but I preferred to isolate myself because my father is part of the population at risk. So I brought some rugs to my apartment and put them in the living room," says Díaz, who lives on the eighth floor of a residential block in Caracas.

Preparing for Tokyo 2020

During this time, one of the things Díaz is looking to do is improve is his fitness, the main strength of his younger rivals.

"I think that today due to the science of sports, recovery and nutrition, athletes' careers now have longevity, but somehow, seeing the average age of my competitors, I have to fight the stereotype that I am old. But I think it is something that should not affect me, especially in my discipline where technique is very important. That is my strength, it is a positive point for me," he explains.

With so many years competing at the highest level, Díaz knows his rivals very well. Among those to keep in mind at the next Olympics, Díaz mentions three: KIYUNA Ryo (Japan), Damián Quintero (Spain) and Ali Sofuoglu (Turkey).

“I saw Kiyuna start in 2012 when I beat him in the semi-final in the World Cup. From that moment it began to take off. I have also known Damián for many years. He is not one of the youngest, but he is now number 1. And Sofuoglu is much younger. He comes with that energy that youth gives him, which makes him a difficult rival," he points out.

Before the competitions came to a halt, Díaz was fifth in the WKF ranking.

When he thinks of Tokyo 2020, the Venezuelan goes for it all.

“Now that I have qualified, I don't want to just go to compete. I want to go to Tokyo to be a medal contender or, why not, win gold. It is not easy, but in my career I have realised that there are no impossibilities."

Antonio Díaz has been dominating the kata division scene in the last 20 years (Photo by Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/Getty Images)
Antonio Díaz has been dominating the kata division scene in the last 20 years (Photo by Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/Getty Images)
2020 Getty Images

A special connection with Japan

Díaz is especially excited to return to compete in Japan, a place where he has spent a lot of time and knows very well.

“One of the first dojos I trained with was owned by a Japanese master, SATO Shoko, who was the first to come to Venezuela. Then I remember my first trip to Japan in 1997, when I went to a championship in Okinawa where I was also training a few years later."

"In 2007, I met my main teacher in recent years, INOUE Yoshimi, who died in 2015. For many years I went to train with him in Tottori, a city in western Japan. This city is not very big so I could live closely to Japanese culture thanks to my teacher who defined himself as half Japanese and half Latin. Japan is a very special place for me."

The future

Despite the fact that the Olympics are over a year away, Díaz has been pondering for a very long time what his life would be like once he stops competing at the highest level. One of his goals is to continue teaching in the school he currently owns in Caracas, which has a hundred students.

“Teaching is something I would like to continue spending time on in the future. I would also like to continue giving seminars and helping elite athletes from other countries. In 2018, I was helping the Hong Kong team at the Asian Games and it was a great experience," he recalls.

Díaz is also part of the Athletes Commission of the Venezuelan Olympic Committee and the Athletes Commission of the International Karate Federation, in addition to being among the 30 athletes who are candidates to win the four positions of the Athletes Commission of the International Olympic Committee.

"Just being on that list of 30 candidates who will run for a commission position fills me with pride, seeing the names that are included."

It will be precisely during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, when all the athletes qualified will be given the opportunity to vote for their preferred candidate.

Whatever happens in Tokyo, for Díaz, it will be the culmination of a dream career that still has a few chapters to write.

View this post on Instagram

English below.⤵️ _ No tengo nada que probarle a nadie. Logré cada meta que me propuse en mi carrera y nunca fue para complacer a nadie más que a mí. Iba de salida cuando se me atravesó un nuevo objetivo: hacer por primera vez un camino hacia los Juegos Olímpicos. Me quedé. Así que en el interín logré otro reconocimiento sin darme cuenta: me convertí en el karateka (masculino) que ha ganado el mayor número de medallas en competiciones individuales en la historia del Campeonato Mundial de Karate de la WKF. Lo que queda de aquí a Tokyo 2020 será para disfrutar estar en cada uno de los tatamis que no volveré a pisar como competidor, con las dificultades que suman los años, pero con el espíritu, entrenando duro y con las ganas de no quedarme sabiendo qué hubiese pasado si... El karate es combate y aquí nadie debe rendirse sin dar la pelea. Tus sueños son tuyos, tus maneras son tuyas, tus tiempos, tus ganas, tus pasos... Nadie te puede decir cuándo empezar y cuándo parar, porque en el camino te pueden pasar cosas maravillosas. ¡Vamos con todo! ___________ I have nothing to prove to anyone. I achieved every goal I set for myself in my career and it was never to please anyone but me. I was leaving when a new goal appears: taking the road to the Olympic Games for the first time. I stayed. So during this, I achieved another recognition accidentally: I became the karateka (male) who has won the greatest number of medals in individual competitions in the history of the WKF World Karate Championship. From now to Tokyo 2020 I will enjoy each tatami that I will not step on as a competitor anymore, with new difficulties that come with the years, but with the same spirit, hard training and knowing that I won´t be asking myself what if... Karate is for fighters and no one should give up without giving the fight. Your dreams are yours, your ways are yours, your times, your desires, your steps... Nobody can tell you when to start and when to stop, because wonderful things can happen to you on the way. Let's do this! 📷: @davidmarisfoto _______ #RecordGuinness #Diazkarate #Motivation #GuinnessWorldRecords #OfficiallyAmazing

A post shared by Antonio Diaz (@diazkarate) on