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Sara Cardin: The Challenges of the Karate World Champion

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Karate athlete Sara Cardin, 32, is World and European Champion in the specialty of kumite, which in Japanese means combat. She won one gold and one silver medal at the world championships, four gold, two silver and one bronze medal at the European championships, 20 Italian titles and holds the “Red K”, the coveted prize that crowns the top champions in the world of this discipline. Sara calls herself a free spirit, a fighter and a dreamer, and following a critical surgery on her cruciate ligament she has only one goal: to win at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where for the first time karate will be an Olympic sport.

How did you become interested in karate?
I started when I was very young, at the age of 7. My mother had enrolled me in a dance class where I wore tutus and ballerina shoes, then in artistic gymnastics where I had a little pink costume, but I spent most of my time with my grandfather and I played with bows, swords and arrows in the yard. My grandfather had made a sack where he put all of my grandmother’s old sheets, he hung it on a tree and I played with it all day long. We watched the Karate Kid movies with Bruce Lee and one day he said to my mother, “perhaps you should let her change sports”. So we found a martial arts gym near home and that is how I started. 

Would you ever have thought that one day you would become world champion? 
When I was a kid, I was coordinated and very quick, but in addition to this I have always felt an incredible strength inside of me, a volcanic energy. I felt like a little warrior. I remember that one evening I was running around the dining room table at my grandparents’ house with a wooden sword yelling, “World champions, world champions!” My mother said to me in Veneto dialect, “You have a long way to go before becoming a world champion!” And she asked me, “When will you quit this karate?” And I told her, “I’ll quit only when I’m the best in the world.” I have always had big dreams, big ambitions. 

What was the biggest challenge you’ve ever had to face? 
When I was a kid, I had to face difficult moments and I still have bad memories. What’s more, there were times when I did nothing other than study for school and train for the competitions. There was no time for recreation. I attended a high school with emphasis on sciences, and on Mondays the teachers didn’t care that I had been traveling around the world wearing the official tracksuit of Italy, and carrying the Italian flag high in the air. There was class interrogation. It was stressful. And it was not easy turning professional. First of all, I was a woman, and then I did not meet the minimum height requirement of one meter and 61 centimeters to enter a military sports group in the Army. I had to prove time and again that I was strong despite my height limitation and I had to get past the prejudices. There were some difficulties, but they were exactly what made me stronger. 

Have you ever thought about giving it all up? 
There have been many hard times, but I have always had a dream bigger than anything else, and everything, wonderful and terrible moments alike, has been useful to me to get where I wanted to go. There was a period when I had really reached the limit. I followed very rigorous diets (if you were even just 100 grams overweight you couldn’t compete). One evening after returning from practice, I picked up my gloves, put them in the closet and didn’t take them out for five months. During that period I went to the swimming pool, swam watching the black stripe on the bottom of the pool. Little by little, I then decided to go back to the gym. I started to get back my sensations, my passions. That is because karate, in any case, makes me feel good. 

How do you feel taking the Italian spirit around the world?
It is an enormous honor. When you are competing in a final, you are alone with your kimono, 18,000 spectators yelling from the terraces, and with the cameras focused on you. But I have the Italian shield in my heart and I feel it like an extra charge of energy. I feel that really I’m not alone, but that all of Italy is fighting with me against someone else. 
We at Lamborghini are also proud to be able to represent Italian excellence. How did you feel behind the wheel of the Huracán Performante Spyder?
It was spectacular. The Huracán is modern, sporty, colorful, sparkling. I have always loved speed. In karate, our kicks “travel” at 3 tenths of a second, and if you blink your eyes at the wrong time, you end up with a kick in the face. I have the same passion for speed also in cars. I like to press down on the pedal and feel the acceleration. Going from 0 to 100 in under three seconds gives you an incredible rush of adrenaline. It is so much fun. And then, I have always liked cars. When I was little, I always drove the token-operated cars at the seaside, which unfortunately aren’t around anymore! 

What is your goal for the future?
To win at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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Photo Credits: Stefano Guindani