World No. 1 Damian Quintero: Welcome to the golden age of karate

Damian Quintero of Spain all smiles after winning a gold medal in the Men's Individual Kata event during the ANOC World Beach Games in 2019 (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images for ANOC)
Damian Quintero of Spain all smiles after winning a gold medal in the Men's Individual Kata event during the ANOC World Beach Games in 2019 (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images for ANOC)

The Spanish karateka stays focused for karate's debut at the Olympics

Damian Quintero is right at the centre of the "golden age" of karate kata in Spain.

Quintero is world No.1 in the men's ranking, Sandra Sanchez is world No.1 in the women's ranking and there's an exciting generation of young Spanish karatekas ready to take up the mantle.

"We're in the Olympics, there are lots of grants and support, the press gives us coverage [and] calling right now," Quintero told Olympic Channel.

"It wasn't like this 18 years ago when I started."

Next year, karate will make its debut for the first time in Tokyo 2020 with the two karate disciplines, kata and kumite to be featured.

However, Tokyo 2020 is still the main focus of 36-year-old Quintero, a 10-time European champion, despite the Olympics being postponed to next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Back training at the elite high performance centre in Madrid with star coach Jesus del Moral, there's just one thing on his mind.


My goal is the Olympic Games, there's nothing else in my head but the Games.

World number 1 Quintero on the 'Loneliness' of Karate
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Improvising in a pandemic

Quintero lives in Madrid where the pandemic struck hard with the the Spanish government declaring a complete lockdown in March.

When the elite Olympic training centre in the capital closed down, Quintero had to improvise to stay in shape.

"The physical part was the hardest," he said, "the strength and weight training we do transfers to the technical response in our karate."

"Of course I had a couple of weights that my neighbour lent me, then I was using bottles of water, mop handles, press-ups, pull-ups, but that's not a lot really.

"I really noticed the loss in weight and musculature. Luckily on the kata side, the technical part, I have a basement with a tatami mat, it's about 15 square metres so I could train there and not bother my wife in the living room!

"Almost every day we did double sessions remotely by video call, with my iPad in the basement, so that part of the training was okay."

And while he had to adjust his physical training due of COVID-19, mentally Quintero is handling it all well.

"As all competitions were off, we've taken it calmly, with a bit of philosophy, we were able to take a vacation when we would have been in Tokyo and then come back stronger."

Damian Quintero of Spain competes in the Men's Individual Kata event during the ANOC World Beach Games (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images for ANOC)
Damian Quintero of Spain competes in the Men's Individual Kata event during the ANOC World Beach Games (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images for ANOC)
2019 Getty Images

"Karate belongs at the Olympics"

The news of the Olympic postponement came in the third week of lockdown in Madrid, and Quintero was stunned.

"The first week was fine, training at home, the second, okay, by the third week I was losing my will to train and then came the shock of the Olympic postponement."

As World Karate Kata No.1, Quintero has already qualified for Tokyo 2020.

"What goes through your head is that you've been training for three and a half years for one day, in my sport which debuts at Tokyo 2020, the first time we're on an Olympic programme, where we belong."

"But then, of course, you think about it and what's happening across the world and you can't be selfish, you have to think of others, and it's obvious that the Olympics had to be moved, this battle against COVID-19 is turning out to be a really hard one.

"In the end you have to be thankful to be able to see your family and that it hasn't struck people close to you.

"You have to stay positive, no athlete ever has an easy story, there are obstacles to overcome, walls to break down, you have to move forward, think, and focus.

"Next year I get to debut at the Olympics and demonstrate that karate is an Olympic sport like any other, and I'm going to fight for that medal."

The beginnings

It all started for Quintero in his hometown of Torremolinos near Malaga at the Goju Ryu Torremolinos karate club.

It was a small club right in front of his school that started in 1979, and has since produced some of the best karatekas in the country.

Quintero took up karate as a kid, and never imagined that one day he'd be going into an Olympics as favourite to win a gold medal.

The pause for the pandemic has only made him more determined, with the planning moved back a year.

"Our trainer has basically copied 2019 to 2020 and 2020 to 2021. So we took a vacation in July and now we don't stop until October next year."

"The handicap now is that we still don't have competitions which motivate you to get into top shape, but fingers crossed we'll be back competing in January."

'KINGtero' and the future of Spanish karate

Quintero is still king of Spanish kata karate and while he's not considering retirement yet, the plan was to slow down a bit in 2021.

That will now happen in 2022, but he can see a bright future in the next generation of Spanish karatekas.

Quintero doesn't want to name any names, but a quick glance at the world rankings shows that the current top-ranked karate kata cadet in the world is Azahara Perez on the female side and Alejandro Jimenez Diaz - who is No.2 in the men's category - and exciting talent Oscar Garcia Cuadrado continues his exciting rise, he's currently Junior World No.1.

But Quintero will not easily concede his position.

"I encourage them, but I don't let them win," said Quintero. "I try to win everything, from the weights room to the tatami."

"This is my territory."

By Olympic Channel