Yonatan Freund had competed at cadet and U21 level at previous karate world championships, but last week he made his senior worlds debut for Australia in Budapest and proved he has what it takes to compete against the best there is.
The 21-year-old Sydneysider described the vibe within the Australian team and the atmosphere at the worlds, as amazing.
“I could really hear the whole team getting behind me and cheering while I was fighting,” Freund told The AJN while travelling back home on Monday night.
“There were athletes from about 100 countries competing and it was cool stepping onto the mat, being part of it all.
“In the lead-up, we had a focus on team bonding and I believe it paid off.”
Freund – who runs an east Sydney Miyagi Kan Karate school with training partner Richard Basckin – had a harsh introduction in the individual men’s under-84kg kumite competition, when facing the 2021 world champion, Egypt’s Youssef Badawy, who won 8-0 and went on to win the gold medal.
But Freund didn’t let that deter him in the repechage.
“I’ve never fought anyone like him,” Freund said of Badawy.
“He was so clinical with everything he did, but I learned a lot from that.”
In the repechage, Freund came from behind to defeat Finland’s Bjorn Kulovouri 3-1 by scoring a three-point head kick in the final seconds and earned another comeback win against Senegal’s Makhtar Diop by scoring a two-point body kick on the buzzer to win 3-2.
He eventually bowed out – just one bout short of qualifying for the bronze medal match – when falling 2-3 to Ukraine’s Valerii Chobotar, who landed a spinning hook kick to the head, earning three points, with just 10 seconds left.
Freund finished the individual competition seventh overall, in a field of 66. “Everyone here is at such a high level and sometimes just one or two moments can decide a fight,” he said.
“So I’m happy with how I performed, but it hurt getting so close in the fight [against Chobotar].
“The key to my success in the first two repechage rounds was believing, even when I was behind, that I was able to come back.
“One of my biggest goals for my first senior worlds was to prove I belonged at this level and I believe I did that.”
Another highlight for Freund was in the men’s kumite teams competition, where each nation enters its top five fighters.
In round one, Australia earned its first world championships team win since 2016 when defeating Portugal 3-2 and it was Freund who won the deciding bout 7-1.
“I was glad I was able to step up in that moment, for the team,” Freund said.
The Aussies faced 2021 bronze medallists Kazakhstan next and lost 2-3. “I came in as the second fighter to try to steady the ship after we lost the first fight, and managed to win 2-0 against the world number three in his weight category.
“It was definitely the toughest opponent I’ve ever beaten.
“Overall, there were a lot of good takeaways for me from this event, and I’m excited to go back to training and improve.”