MANILA, Philippines -- What should have been a happy moment turned bittersweet for Filipina karateka Junna Tsukii after the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
Tsukii won gold for the Philippines after ruling the -50kg kumite at the World Trade Center on Saturday afternoon, but her achievement was not celebrated or even recognized by the team's head coach.
In an emotional Facebook post on Saturday evening, Tsukii bared that after a team meeting, the head coach congratulated all the players who competed that day, but ignored her completely.
"He never said my name and he didn't look at my face," the 28-year-old karateka said.
Tsukii decided to ask the coach for an explanation to his actions, and was told that she was not considered part of Team Philippines.
"He said, 'Because you are not part of the team, that's why your medal is not for this team or not for this country. And for me you are dead, that's why I can't see you because you are dead,'" Tsukii wrote.
The karateka did not name the coach in her post, but later confirmed that she was referring to Turkish mentor Okay Arpa.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday morning, Tsukii admitted that the experience was very hurtful to her, to the point she could not sleep the night of her victory.
"Yesterday, actually I can't sleep. I feel, he bullied me because I'm Japanese or I'm not pure Filipino, I don't know," Tsukii said, through tears.
"But I can't be happy 100%, because some people are not happy for my work," she added.
Tsukii said the coach has been cold towards her ever since she returned from a tournament in Madrid from November 29 to December 1, the Karate 1 Premier League. The federation had tried to stopped her from competing there, she said, even though she paid for it out of her own pocket.
According to Tsukii, she joined the Madrid tilt in part to prepare for the SEA Games and also to keep gaining points for qualification to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
"The Southeast Asian Games karate event is like Asian Games or world event because they have world standard," she said. "I'm sure our opponent is very strong like world standard. I prepared so much for this tournament, and I finally I got gold."
"But I'm so tired," she added.
Tsukii was apologetic that her Facebook post may have caused some strife in the karate team, but she said she could no longer bear the months of bullying from the coach. Moreover, she stressed that her gold was dedicated not just for the country and her family, but to the Philippine karate team as well.
Despite the hardship she is experiencing, Tsukii is not letting go of her dream of qualifying to Tokyo and inspiring future Filipino karatekas.
"If I can make way, good way, even when I stop playing maybe many people can work. Maybe many people will follow or more people do a great job than me," she said.
"I'm just one step," she added. "After me, next generation will do more and go up."
Sought for comment, Ricky Lim of Karate Pilipinas said he will meet with both Tsukii and Arpa in an attempt to smooth the matter over, before releasing an official statement.
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