Ariel Torres is intense and focused on making his Olympic dreams come true in karate.
“It’s an honor to just be there in karate as the first Cuban-American ever to represent karate in the Olympics so it’s a pleasure," said Torres, a Team USA Karate athlete.
Torres was on the top of the podium as he secured his place in Tokyo by winning the Karate 2021 Qualification Tournament in Paris. The reality of his achievement is finally starting to set in.
“Once I saw my mom, my Dad, my sister and my whole family, it was like, woah. It hit me in the heart, we actually did it. I feel like I was able to make my mom, my dad and my sister proud," said Torres.
The Japanese martial art of karate, which means empty hand, is making its Olympic debut for the first time and the 23-year-old athlete says he has been waiting for this opportunity for a long time.
“Karate just got into the Olympics right now. In 2020 it was inducted and I had the chance to try and qualify so this was my one shot ever to get into the Olympics," said Torres.
Torres is also proud of his Hispanic heritage as he was born in Cuba. He came over with his family at age 4 and settled down in Hialeah.
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The athlete began karate when he was 6 years old as a way to learn discipline to contain his hyper energy, and it took off from there.
He recalls when his sensei called him during class at Westland Hialeah Senior High School to let him know that karate was finally going to be in the Olympics. That call sparked his interesting tradition of wearing lucky underwear.
"I ran to the bathroom, I took them off and I wrote down: Olympics 2020. I’ve been wearing these underwear in every competition and after every win. I wore it and well I made it to the Olympics," said Torres.
Torres has qualified to represent Team USA in Tokyo, but he says it took a lot of hard work and sacrifices behind the scenes to get to where he is now.
“We picked up money in the City of Hialeah, in the streets, asking for donations car by car. People donated and if it wasn’t for the City of Hialeah and my community, I would not be here today because I probably would have quit a long time ago not being able to make it to these events," said Torres.
His sister, who struggled to learn English at first and became a doctor, is also his biggest role model and motivation.
“If I want to be amazing, I have to do what she does in whatever I love. Whether it was school or karate. She was studying Monday through Sunday and I did the same thing for karate and I never stopped. Eventually, I became number one in the country. Number 10 in the world and now one of the ten athletes qualified for the Olympics," said Torres.
Torres is competing in the male Kata form of karate and he'll also fit right in during his time in Tokyo as he loves watching anime.
“I’ve been watching anime ever since I was in high school and I fell in love with it because the main character always has this sense of self improvement. And I felt like if I just train more like these characters, I can become the star of the show," said Torres.
He's shining bright and while he's got a lot of medals under his black belt, he wants to add one more to his collection.
“My goal is to win in the Olympics, get a medal, bring it back home to my family, my country and make everyone proud," said Torres.