World-class karate athlete sets sights on Olympics

CU Denver student hopes to represent U.S. when sport debuts at Tokyo 2020

August 13, 2017

CU Denver offers a growing Club Sports program, and now it’s home to an elite athlete who is making a serious bid to compete in the 2020 Olympics.

CU Denver student Kamran Madani
Kamran Madani, a first-generation American, hopes to represent the U.S. at the 2020 Olympics.

Kamran Madani hopes to represent the United States in a new sport for the next Olympics – karate. “I call it the most collective, well-rounded combat sport right now,” said Madani, who transferred to CU Denver from Front Range Community College this spring. “Karate includes the whole spectrum of combat sports – hands, legs, grapping and throws.”

Madani is a first-generation American who trains in these elements, along with building up his strength and stamina, at the International MartialArts Association (IMA) training studio in Louisville. His parents, who emigrated from Iran, founded the dojo, which has evolved into a mid-America headquarters for karate.

Madani, 20, competes in sparring (kumite) in the light heavyweight division (minus-84 kilos), where he is currently the U.S. top seed. He’s been a member of the U.S. Male Senior National Team for two years, and starting at age 12, he was on the Junior National Team for six years.

Eyes on Tokyo 2020

Madani has won 14 national championships in karate, and will spend the next two years competing in international events to accumulate points and hopefully move up in the world rankings. A total of 30 male athletes worldwide will qualify in three weight categories for the Olympics. Only the top 10 world-ranked athletes in each weight division, regardless of nationality, will qualify for Tokyo 2020, so Madani knows he’s got lots of work to do.

CU Denver student Kamran Madani in karate ring action
Kamran Madani delivers a punch during a karate competition.

“I can’t think of a world without it,” he said of his sport. “It’s ingrained in everything I do.” Madani said he stayed in state for college so he can continue training at his parents’ studio, and he chose CU Denver largely because – being accustomed to personalized instruction from his karate coaches – he prefers the university’s smaller-sized classes.

He is majoring in psychology and plans to get a master’s degree in the subject. “I like brains. I like picking at athletes’ brains,” Madani said.

Deborah Keyek-Franssen, associate vice president for digital education and engagement at CU, is a member of the IMA in Louisville where Madani trains. She’s impressed with the leadership that he shows. “He is a fantastic instructor and he’s the only one who can get the kids, who are between 5 and 18 years old, dancing at our annual karate camp,” she said. “He pulls the community together.”

Mentoring other athletes

Karate is a sport that incorporates the mind, body and spirit, Keyek-Franssen said, and Madani brings that mix into the dojo and the classroom, she said. “We’re privileged at the dojo because we have Kamran and many other students competing at national level in our classes. They push us older folks.”

When not going to class and mentoring other karate athletes, Madani is boarding planes bound for distant competitions. This spring, he competed in the U.S. Open and Dutch Open, as well as a competition on an island in the South Pacific. The next several months will see him enter the ring in Spain, Austria and Germany.

He pays his own way to competitions, but his parents chip in as well. “As long as my grades are good, they show some love,” he said with a smile. Madani is looking for sponsorships to help defray some of the costs.

Even though he’s been practicing karate since age 6 – “I went into my parents’ studio at age 5, but they took me out when I made too much of a ruckus” – he’s still relatively young to be competing at such an elite level. He’s 20, but the prime ages for full-contact kumite is 25 to 30.

“Experience plays a big role in getting punched or not getting punched,” Madani said with a laugh. “I’m still on the young end of that, but the results have been good so far.”