The Bulgarian-born athlete continues to prepare for the debut of her sport in Tokyo 2020
Like many other athletes around the world, karateka María Dimitrova has been training at home for months. In her country, the Dominican Republic, the situation created by COVID-19 is far from under control.
With no competitions planned for the coming months, the Bulgarian-born athlete and specialist in kata - where karatekas execute a specified series of moves - says that the most difficult thing for her was continuing training without a specific goal.
In this long race and months without facing any rival, her final objective remains clear: the Olympic Games.
Dimitrova is currently ranked 10th in the world for female kata in the Tokyo 2020 standings, which is something that keeps her optimistic about her chances of being part of karate's Olympic debut next year.
“My plans remain the same so far. It has not changed, but simply one more year has been added to the Olympic cycle," she told Tokyo 2020.
"My commitment to the Dominican Republic continues in the same way and the goal is the same, although the focus due to the circumstances is not the same, once we get out of the crisis, the commitment is Tokyo 2021."
Getting ready at home
Dimitrova said she feels lucky because in her sport she can continue training at home and doesn't need large facilities. However, she misses training with other people.
“I think what has affected me the most on a personal level is that I am not training with any coach right now. It is difficult because it's not the same to train alone than with someone who is watching and supporting you. I am eager to return to normal training," she explained.
The terrace area of her home is now her training environment and where she works to both maintain her physical and technical skills.
"Our job is to train, to keep the shape as far as possible," she commented, while noting that she performs basic training following a programme that is virtually supplied by her trainer Tony Parra.
Another aspect that keeps her motivated is being able to witness the debut of her sport in the Olympics.
“The fact that our sport is finally Olympic is a dream for all karate athletes. Karate is a very beautiful and attractive sport and it deserves to be part of the Games."
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From Sofia to Sousa
Dimitrova has been the face of karate in the Dominican Republic for many years - a true pioneer of the sport in the Caribbean.
The athlete was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, where she began practising karate at home from the age of four with her father, who was a practitioner of the sport.
When she was six, her family moved to the Dominican Republic. Upon arriving in Sousa, in the province of Puerto Plata, her father opened a karate school and she continued learning with him.
However, the biggest change came when Dimitrova was 13 and she started training with a sensei who was not her father.
“It was difficult, but like everything in life, you adapt. At first, it was challenging, but I looked for a way to keep going," she recalled.
But the successes started to come. First in youth competitions and then in international tournaments.
The 34-year-old has been ranked among the best in the world in women's kata since 2005, when she won the gold medal at the XVI Pan-American Junior Karate Championship in Uruguay. That same year, she also won her first world medal at the WKF World Junior Karate Championship in Cyprus.
In 2006, she began travelling to Japan to train with HASEGAWA Yukimitsu, a seven-time World Champion. That year, as a result of her training, Dimitrova won gold at the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games in Colombia.
In the Dominican Republic, I used to train 2 hours a day. When I went to Japan, I trained 7 or 8 hours. It was a very big change for me and I learned a lot.
"I woke up sore, I couldn't walk, but I was very excited to go to the karate school and continue training. Having that opportunity, training with great masters in Japan, was what opened the doors for me internationally. Thanks to those teachings, I was able to raise my technical level."
Thanks to all her international results, Dimitrova has had the support of the main sports institutions in her country.
Throughout her career, the athlete has received the Karate Athlete of the Year award six times from the Dominican Karate Federation (FEDOKARATE), the Association of Sports Writers (ACD) and the Dominican Olympic Committee (COD).
With her achievements, she is very popular in her country where she is considered a positive role model for young people.
From athlete to teacher
In addition to being a high-performance athlete, Dimitrova is also a karate teacher and businesswoman. She has an Academy of Martial Arts, for learning self-defence, as well as five karate schools under the name of "Dimitrova Dojo" (one in Santo Domingo and the others in the eastern region of the country).
“The truth is that I had never considered being a teacher. But one day my sensei had to go back to Japan and I took over the school."
"When I started teaching, I fell in love with the experience. Seeing the change in those children, when entering and leaving the dojo, I saw that it could make a difference."
Currently, Dimitrova dojo's have more than 200 students. Ninety-eight per cent of the members of the Dominican Republic national child and youth team have passed through one of its centres.
"I think this has been the best contribution I have made to my country, more than the international medals. The training of all these athletes, the growth of my sport and the preparation of the next generation of karate athletes - I am very proud," she pointed out.
Another much more recent project is her foundation. Through this, she sponsors low-income girls in the practice of karate.
“I saw that there were girls of little economic resources that could not pay the membership of my school and we created the foundation to help them. Once I started the lessons, I realised that there were many girls who had been abused. It shocked me a lot. With the foundation, we help them through sport. It is incredible to see how they change and how they gain self-esteem," she said.
One more sports cycle
With a competitive career spanning 17 years in competitive karate, Dimitrova announced that she would retire after Tokyo but a few months ago she changed her mind.
With four consecutive gold medals in the Central American and Caribbean Games in kata, she has decided to go for a fifth title at the next edition to be held in 2022 in Panama.
“For now I am not retiring. I'll continue. I am going to do one more cycle, go to my fifth Central American and Caribbean Games,” she said.
Dimitrova is determined to remain active for a few more years and everything indicates that her karate career still has a long way to go as well as a few more successes to bring to the Caribbean island she has lived in almost all her life.