USKFI’s Leeanne Royle wins Gold at the WSKA World Championships
The USKFI’s Leeanne Royle has become Ireland’s first individual Gold medallist at a World Shotokan Karate Association (WSKA) World Championships by winning the Children’s Female Individual Kata event at the Championships in Liverpool at the end of September. Leeanne, aged just 14, was competing at the WSKA World Championships for the first time in their new categories for 14-15 year olds. These biennial Championships are the pinnacle of the Shotokan karate competition calendar and bring together other world-class karateka from countries as diverse as Venezuela, South Africa, Ghana and the United States, as well as members of the European Shotokan Karate Association (ESKA), who compete every year at the ESKA European Championships. This year the Championships were hosted by the Karate Union of Great Britain and held in Liverpool’s impressive Echo Arena. With over 800 competitors from 28 countries, this was the largest Championships in WSKA’s 13 year history. This was also the USKFI’s first time entering the WSKA Championships, having just been accepted by the WSKA Executive Committee as the Irish affiliate organisation.
Leeanne Royle, a second dan, is the most seasoned competitor of the a very successful USKFI Junior Squad and, having just turned 14, also eligible to compete in the new WSKA 14-15 year old kata and kumite categories. Leeanne, of Corduff Shotokan Karate Club, has competed regularly since she was small and has been very successful both Nationally (USKFI’s current Best Overall Competitor) and internationally (current UK Champion). However, WSKA is a big step up for any competitor, particularly on KUGB ‘home turf’ which saw huge crowds of spectators both from the UK and Ireland create a fantastic atmosphere throughout the entire weekend.
The competition was held over a weekend so the Saturday, which saw the Children as well as the Cadets and Juniors compete, was an incredibly busy day. Leeanne’s main event, the Children’s Female Individual Kata was one of the first events of the day. Leeanne performed strongly but confidently throughout the early elimination rounds of ‘shitei’ (judge’s choice) katas, making it through to last round with a very strong performance of Jion and winning a place in the semi-finals. Leeanne had also entered the Cadet Ladies’ Kata category and, again, performed consistently well to also reach the semi-finals. She then found herself in the enviable position of being the only competitor to make both semi-finals which were, unfortunately, being run simultaneously on different tatamis. This involved some rather unsettling administrative manoeuvres which led to Leeanne competing on one tatami before racing across to perform almost immediately again on the second. However, Leeanne remained her usual calm and focused self and chose to perform kata Jion in both semi-finals. As the scores were read out, Leeanne finally broke her composure with a huge smile as she realised she’d reached the final of the Children’s Female Individual Kata event. She also came a very credible 6th overall in the Cadet Ladies’ Individual kata. A fantastic achievement any competitor, let alone a 14 year old competing in her first major Championships.
The finals began after the Opening Ceremony, at which the Championships were formally opened by the Lord Mayor of Liverpool. Leeanne’s final was on first and she was the first competitor called up to perform, choosing her strongest kata Empi. She was performing against two competitors from the U.S. and one from Wales. As the fourth set of scores were read out, it was evident that Leeanne had done enough to take the Gold. The support for Leeanne from her coaches, teammates and supporters who had travelled from Ireland, as well as the UK teams and supporters, most of whom know Leeanne ( if not personally from KUGB competitions, but by reputation) was stupendous. It was fantastic to finally see the Tricolour raised and the national anthem played at Championships of this calibre. Congratulations poured in for days afterwards and it was boosting to receive such positive support from karateka of so many different styles and associations.
The USKFI’s most senior competitor, Eleanore Cotes, was unlucky not to make it through the kumite eliminations. Eleanor has had a fantastic year in 2013, making it through to the kumite finals of both the KUGB Grand Slam in February and the KUGB National Championships in May. Cadet competitor Sean O’Connor was also competing in his first World Championships and was very unlucky to lose to a dubious ippon score from his opponent in a very exciting kumite match in which he fought very well, both tactically and ability-wise. However, it was fantastic experience for Sean who has been improving steadily this year and has had some excellent kumite matches both in Ireland (current USKFI Cadet Kumite Champion) and the UK.
The USKFI also has three qualified ESKA judges: Jennifer Prendergast, Bernard Gaffney and Jim Bartley, and all three judged at the WSKA Championships. At the end of a very successful Championships for them too, they were presented with their WSKA badges and ties by WSKA President Richard Poole, meaning they are now qualified WSKA judges as well. All three are members of the USKFI’s Referee and Judges’ Technical Committee and so participation in these Championships was not just a great accolade for all three, but further attests to the high standard of the USKFI’s Referees’ and Judges’ Courses of which all three are involved in running. h
Unfortunately ESKA has yet to follow in WSKA’s footsteps and introduce a 14-15 year old category for its Championships in Porto, Portugal this November, so it’ll 2015 before Leeanne can compete at the same level again. However, the USKFI are sending a squad over in November in which it is hoped the USKFI’s run of success will continue.
The USKFI has been in operation since 2002 and, as with any organisation, is constantly striving to maintain the highest standards of karate and of government for its members. The success in Liverpool was a great vindication of the work being put in on a daily basis: behind the scenes, at organisational level, and at every USKFI dojo throughout the country. For Leeanne and her father and coach, David Royle, the training continues. Leeanne stormed her way through the USKFI’s Shotokan Cup in October, winning both her kata and kumite events and being awarded the USFKI’s Shotokan Cup. She now has her sights firmly set on the KUGB’s Grand Slam between Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales in February. A very bright future awaits the USKFI’s rising star.