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Aiming Haya: Canadian Pan Am volunteer-turned athlete a medal contender in Lima

Haya Jumaa of Mississauga, Ont., is expected to be a medal contender in the 61-kilogram women's kumite discipline when karate competition begins Aug. 10 at the Pan Am Games in Lima.

Jumaa, 25, has risen to 8th in the WKF Karate1 world rankings

Canada's Haya Jumaa is considered a medal contender in the 61-kilogram women's kumite discipline of karate at the upcoming Pan Am Games in Lima. The 25-year-old has been passionate about the martial arts since childhood. (Marc-Andre Donato/Canadian Press)

Haya Jumaa's first Pan Am assignment came as a volunteer four years ago in Toronto.

Her next one will see her compete as an athlete at the 2019 Games in Lima, Peru.

Jumaa, 25, is expected to be a medal contender in the 61-kilogram women's kumite discipline when karate competition begins Aug. 10 at the Polideportivo Villa El Salvador. She'll be joined at the Games by Fredericton's Kate Campbell (55-kilo) and Daniel Gaysinsky of Vaughan, Ont. (men's 84-kilo).

As a volunteer, it triggered something in me. That I was going to be the athlete that [hears] the national anthem of Canada once I'm on the podium with my gold medal.— Karate athlete Haya Jumaa on the upcoming Pan Am Games

Vancouver's Rita Ha Thi Ngo will compete in the women's kata discipline. Kumite involves sparring while kata is the demonstration discipline consisting of a series of movements against a virtual opponent.

Jumaa emigrated from the United Arab Emirates over a year before the Toronto Games, where she was tasked with holding the Canadian flag and leading karate and taekwondo athletes onto the field of play.

After that experience, she promised herself she'd one day compete for Canada and now is set for her Pan Am athletic debut.

Ineligbile for 2015 Games in Toronto

"As a volunteer, it triggered something in me," Jumaa, a resident of Mississauga, Ont., said in a recent interview. "That I was going to be the athlete that walks behind that flag and [hears] the national anthem of Canada once I'm on the podium with my gold medal at the Pan Am Games."

Jumaa, a Dubai native, wasn't eligible to compete at the 2015 Games because she didn't have her citizenship. She has been passionate about the martial arts since childhood and represented the UAE in taekwondo at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.

Her focus turned to karate in 2016 when it was added to the Summer Olympic program. Jumaa has since risen to eighth in the WKF Karate1 world rankings and is coming off a bronze medal at a Series A event last June in Montreal.

"Haya is an extremely hard-working, relentless, physically, mentally and emotionally very robust athlete," said Canadian kumite head coach Nassim Varasteh. "She's extremely athletic, she's talented, every time she steps on the floor she goes to war. Every time."

Striking, kicking and punching are the offensive techniques in kumite. Attacks with good form, power and control earn between one and three points.

Karate makes Olympic debut in 2020

A victor is declared if a competitor earns eight points more than their opponent within the duration of the bout or by gaining more points than their opponent in the allotted time.

Varasteh said Jumaa is a well-rounded competitor who brings sharp focus to every event.

"She has good use of hands and legs and the way she's able to manage and control the mat," she said.

The three highest-ranked gold medallists from the eight events at Lima, who do not qualify through Olympic rankings or tournaments, will earn their places at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Karate will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo but was left off the program for the 2024 Games in Paris.

Canada won four medals in karate at the 2015 Games. The sport made its Pan Am debut in 1995 at Mar del Plata, Argentina.

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