Who is Sandra Sanchez? The queen of kata who went from 'too old' to G.O.A.T.

At 33 Sandra Sanchez was told she was too old for karate kata, at 37 the WKF called her the 'greatest of all time', and now she's set for Tokyo 2020.

Sandra Sanchez can't help herself: "It's impossible not to think about Tokyo!" she says, with her trademark laugh.

The Spanish karateka has plenty of reasons to be all smiles as she just picked up her fifth straight European title in Guadalajara on Saturday.

The karate kata world champion is many people's favourite to take home gold from Tokyo.

"Tokyo is the dream that gets more real with every day that passes." - Sandra Sanchez to the Olympic Channel

But things didn't always look this bright.

"Me? A few years ago I thought I'd never win nationals!" - Sanchez' reaction when she found out she'd won Spain's most prestigious sports award along with Rafa Nadal.

Sandra has been fighting all her life.

She first stepped on a Tatami mat at four years of age but even had to fight to get that far, she was brought to ballet classes as a little girl while her brother Paco did karate.

"My brother was two years older than me and if he wanted to do something, then so did I, if he could do something then I thought, so can I!"

Sandra cried so hard that the Sensei told her parents: "let her try it for a week until she stops crying and gets over the tantrum."

She never did.

Too old for Karate?

The fact that her success came relatively late in life means the 37-year-old is enjoying every moment, someone genuinely happy with who and where she is in life.

"Look how beautiful it is!" Sanchez beamed to the Olympic Channel after the medal ceremony, flashing her gold medal after her maiden Worlds win in Madrid, an hour from where she was born, in November 2018.

"I'm so happy, still trying to take it all in. It's a mix of a lot of built up tension, a lot of nerves." - Sandra Sanchez to the Olympic Channel after winning the Karate Kata World Championships in Madrid, November 2018

Sandra Sanchez claims first world title on home soil

Sandra Sanchez claims first world title on home soil

"I have my little heart too"

Told time and time again that she was too old and it'd never happen for her, Sanchez refused to listen and found her path to the podium.

"Of course I had my moments of doubt, I have my little heart too, particularly when people in the world of karate that I respected told me that I was good, but not good enough to win nationals or a world championship." - Sanchez to the Olympic Channel

Now she's lost count of how many consecutive tournaments she's finished on the podium: "I think it's 39 or 40, I don't really pay attention to those kind of numbers, I lost count!"

At one point in her career Sanchez was happy just taking part, now she's taken over.

Life on a tatami mat

The World No.1 chose karate over ballet at four years of age in Talavera de la Reina, population 80,000, in the province of Madrid where her father was a gardener.

She has spent much of her life on a tatami mat since then.

After a degree in sports science in Madrid, Sanchez left to work in Australia, but while she was getting away from home, there was no getting away from karate.

She continued training and teaching extra karate classes in a school in Brisbane, but something kept calling her back.

She knew that to fulfill her dream she needed to focus 100% and train full-time, and moved back to the family home in Talavera with one clear goal: to convince near-mythical kata master and internationally renowned trainer Jesus del Moral to train and believe in her.

Sensei Del Moral declined.

Then he said no again. And again. And again.

And again.

Sanchez started going to Del Moral's gym in central Madrid every single day to train and persuade Del Moral that even though she was already in her thirties and struggling with money, support and sponsorship, that she had what it takes to make it as a kata champion.

And that she wouldn't quit. Ever.

"You don't know me", Sanchez challenged the great teacher.

"Winners train on January 1st"

Del Moral couldn't keep saying no forever and finally became Sensei to Sanchez.

He drew up the first training schedule that included a shock - he expected her to train on January 1st. Sanchez thought it was a mistake, or a joke.

Jesus Del Moral was deadly serious:

"Winners train on January 1st, losers stay in bed." - Jesus Del Moral

This new training program and Sandra's application to it was an instant success.

She became national champion at her first attempt after she began training under Sensei Del Moral.

Sandra Sanchez and Jesus Del Moral: Love in the dojo

The relationship between Sanchez and Del Moral soon became more than just Sensei-Karateka, or teacher-kata student, their shared devotion for karate brought them together, and love developed in the dojo.

Sanchez and Del Moral are now a loving couple and have been for years.

This kiss at Baku 2015 says it all.

"My life changed instantly"

Extraordinary things continued to happen for Sandra Sanchez.

After competing at the Dubai Open 2015 she was brought into an office and offered a position teaching the next generation of karate hopefuls in the UAE.

"They offered me a paid apartment, a car, a generous salary, I thought it was a joke!" Sanchez told Spanish website Publico.

"My life changed instantly. A total 360."

"I went from being over my head in debt, spending more money than I had on petrol driving from Talavera to Madrid, seeing the money dry up from classes every time schools closed for Christmas or for summer - to having a salary, teaching for two hours and then training for as long as I wanted and going for walks in the sand in the evening."

Now with the financial security and freedom to train as much as she wanted, there really was no stopping Sanchez.

""I'll never stop doing karate"

So what would winning gold at Tokyo 2020 mean for Spain's world champ, and would it bring the end of the kata star's career?

Sandra doesn't hesitate: "I'll never stop doing karate, it's made me who I am and helps me to grow and improve as a person every day."

"Tokyo is a dream. I try not to think about winning a medal, or about what colour it might be, and just focus on the next tournament, enjoying the journey, because it's been the most beautiful experience" - Sanchez to the Olympic Channel

"Tokyo is my dream and I'm going to fight with all I have and then afterwards if I still enjoy competing then I'll compete, and as I said, I'll continue to enjoy karate for the rest of my life."

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