Olympic gold medallist takes photo of dead mother to podium in touching tribute - 'Crying in heaven'

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TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 06: Gold medalist Ryo Kiyuna of Team Japan poses with the gold medal for the Men’s Karate Kata on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Nippon Budokan on August 06, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Ryo Kiyuna with an image of his late mother on the gold podium at the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

An Olympic athlete has paid an emotional tribute to his late mother after winning Japan’s first karate gold at Tokyo 2020.

Home hero Ryo Kiyuna kept up his three-year unbeaten run in the event to take gold in the men's kata final. 

The 31-year-old from Okinawa, the island birthplace of the sport, then took a photo of her to the medal podium.

“My mother really dreamed of seeing the gold medal I won,” said Kiyuna, a three-time world champion. “She passed away two years ago and I would have loved her to be here to see me.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Karate - Men's Individual Kata - Medal Ceremony - Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan - August 6, 2021. Gold medallist Ryo Kiyuna of Japan poses. REUTERS/Carl Recine
Gold medallist Ryo Kiyuna's mother passed away two years ago. (Photo by: REUTERS/Carl Recine)

“The day before I left Okinawa for the Olympics, I decided to bring the photo with me. I wanted to climb to the highest part of the podium with her.

“She has been my support, my core, since I was a young boy, so I wanted her to see the view from the top. I think she was smiling and crying in heaven.”

Watch: The Olympian 'left behind' by his beloved mum aged six... for his own good

Click here for the complete medal table of the Tokyo Olympic Games

Silver went to Damian Quintero, who had quit his job as an aeronautical engineer five years ago when the sport was added to the Tokyo programme.

“He has something very special which you can see on the tatami," the six-time European champion said of the gold medallist. 

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Karate - Men's Individual Kata - Elimination Round - Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan - August 6, 2021. Ryo Kiyuna of Japan competes. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse
Ryo Kiyuna took gold in the men's kata final to continue his unbeaten run in the competition. (Photo by: REUTERS/Annegret Hilse)

"When there are spectators, the whole stadium is in raptures and all the attention is on him."

Asked what it meant to be an Olympic champion from Okinawa, Kiyuna added: “I am from Okinawa and for the world of karate, I wanted to go down in history. I had that feeling on the tatami today.

"I am glad we were able to create a new history of karate at this Olympics.”

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