US Olympian Sakura Kokumai describes racist attack while training at park

Cassandra Negley
·Writer
·3-min read

Sakura Kokumai, a U.S. Olympian and seven-time karate national champion, shared more details about a man who shouted racist insults at her while working out in a park in Southern California last week. The incident is another amid the rise in anti-Asian hate and discrimination, which a report found increased 150 percent in 2020. 

Team USA athlete shares video of racist rant

Kokumai was one of the Team USA athletes to speak out about recent anti-Asian hate during a media event this week ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. She was training at Grijalva Park in Orange last weekend when a stranger began yelling at her and screaming random things, she told Los Angeles station KTLA.

“He was basically just yelling stuff like, ‘Don’t talk behind my back. Why are you looking at my car?'” she told KTLA. “So things like that that made me notice it could be something a little bit, I don’t know, off. So I let it be.”

Kokumai, 28, recorded parts of the interaction and shared it to her Instagram page afterward. The man continually yelled to stop looking at him, even though she was looking in other directions, and telling her to stay away from him, even as she wasn't moving on a basketball court. 

In one of the final clips she shared, he yelled, "You're scared! Do something!" and told her he would, "F*** you up, f*** your husband up, or your boyfriend, or whoever the f*** you're talking to on the phone." 

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Kokumai is Japanese American and told KTLA she was "obviously" scared, but said she's laughing in the video because "you really don't know what to do." As he got in his vehicle to leave, she heard him yell racist slurs. 

“I was aware about the anti-Asian hate that was going on," she told KTLA. "You see it almost every day on the news. But I didn’t think it would happen to me at a park I usually go to to train. “

Park goers didn't step in during incident

Kokumai Sakura.
Kokumai Sakura is a seven-time national karate champion for the U.S. (Photo by Manu Reino/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Kokumai noted in her Instagram post that there were people around, but they chose to do nothing. She said some walked by her and even smiled, but only one woman asked if she was OK. And she didn't know what to do next. 

"One lady did come up towards the end, asking if I was OK,” Kokumai said, via KTLA. “But until then, as he was walking up, yelling, there were people, but they kind of kept to themselves the entire time,” she said. “I thought, what if this was my grandma or my mom? That scares me.”

She said she shared her story publicly to raise awareness and show "this is happening." "This is real,” she said.

Rise in anti-Asian hate crimes 

Asian Americans have experienced racially charged attacks and discrimination for more than a year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Incidents were high in New York and Los Angeles as country-wide the number of hate crimes against Asian Americans jumped 150 percent in 2020, per an analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. 

The discrimination continues to rise in 2021. STOP AAPI HATE recorded nearly 1,500 reports in the first four weeks of the year against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Women were harassed nearly 2.3 times more than men, per the report. There were 4,000 recorded incidents by March. 

It all comes even as people are interacting less in public spaces during shelter-in-place orders as the pandemic continues. 

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