Junna Tsukii pulled off a major shocker Sunday evening, emerging champion of the Karate 1 Premier League organized by the World Karate Federation (WKF) held in Lisbon, Portugal.
Currently 10th in the WKF rankings in the women’s kumite 50-kilogram division, Tsukii faced a field composed of the top fighters in the world and came out victorious, a big bounce back after getting eliminated in the early round of the Karate 1 Premier League held in Istanbul, Turkey last March.
Tsukii, the 2019 SEA Games gold medalist, defeated in the championship round the 18th ranked karateka in the world, Moldir Zhangbyrbay of Kazakhstan.
Zhangbyrbay had put on an impressive run in the competition.
In the preliminary round, she prevailed over world no. 9 Bakhriniso Babaeva of Uzbekistan and no. 2 Miyahara Miho of Japan. Zhangbyrbay followed up these impressive wins by getting past world no. 5 Shara Hubrich of Germany in the quarterfinals and no. 4 Ranran Li of China in the semifinals.
Tsukii proved to be an even tougher opponent for Zhangbyrbay. Tsukii’s combination of speed and guile with the counters propelled the Filipina bet to a convincing 2-0 victory over the Kazakh.
This is Tsukii’s first-ever gold medal finish in the Karate 1 Premier League. In 2020, she claimed bronze medals in Karate 1 tournaments held in Chile and in France.
On the way to Sunday’s gold medal match against Zhangbyrbay, Tsukii bested world number 3 Sara Bahmanyar of Iran in the preliminaries before Tsukii escaped with a thriller over world number 6 Radwa Sayed of Egypt in a quarterfinal match that initially ended at 1-1 before Tsukii was awarded more flags, 3-2.
In the semifinals, Tsukii upended two-time world champion and world no. 8 Alexandra Recchia of France with a score of 2-0.
This title conquest in Portugal will be a huge boost in Tsukii’s drive to make the Tokyo Olympics. She is aiming to crack the top 4 in the world rankings or become the top Asian in the rankings to earn for herself an automatic Olympic slot.
Still another route to Tokyo for Tsukii will be the final Olympic qualifier to be held in France this June for karatekas who missed out on the automatic slots.