Natalie Olson, a second-degree black belt with the South Calgary Wado Kai Karate (SCWKK) club, competed in her third World Karate Federation tournament for persons with an intellectual disability, in which she fared well. But despite her recent bronze-medal finish, Olson said she still experiences frustration with how the event is scored.

Olson, a person with Down syndrome, competes in the “kata” division of the WKF Para-Karate competition, which is a series of choreographed movements to show a fight against an imaginary opponent.

Traditionally, this event is graded based on an athlete’s execution of these movements. But the Para division adds an additional component that some athletes, like Olson, can find frustrating.

Olson is a member of the SCWKK’s Canadian team, but because the WKF competition is so new, there is a small number of competitors, which means she often competes with her teammates, mixing different disabilities and belt rank.

The judges can add up to three points to an athlete’s kata score, based on how a disability is classified, which give these additional points extra weight and pressure when a score is tied.

“Sometimes I get frustrated,” said Olson. “It’s the same score but [my teammate] has a different [higher] physical handicap score — this is not fair to win.”

Olson 1BODYVERTIn the lead up to her third World Karate Federation Para-Karate competition, Natalie Olson increased her training time with the South Calgary Wado Kai Karate club. Olson has been practicing the art of karate since she was eight-years-old and was the first person with Down syndrome in Canada to achieve the black belt rank in the style. Photo by Stephanie Hagenaars.

An instructor with the SCWKK, Jasen Pratt, said that while it’s frustrating for athletes, the competition is still in its infancy.

“It’s relatively small and it’s relatively new to karate,” Pratt said. “It’s a relatively small category in the world, let alone Canada. So, these top competitors in this division compete against each other…all these athletes are athletes with a disability, the level of disability that they are dealing with, and that’s a grey area that can or can’t go in your favour sometimes.”

Despite this, Olson keeps her head high and continues to train.

This year’s competition was held in Madrid, Spain, where Olson placed third in her division. Her competition took place on November 8, 2018.

Listen to Calgary Journal reporter Stephanie Hagenaars’ audio story on Natalie Olson below.

Editor: Alec Warkentin |

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