Why Sakura Kokumai Wants to 'Represent This Country' at Tokyo Olympics After Being Targeted in Racist Rant

Sakura Kokumai isn't letting a recent incident stop her from achieving her Olympic dreams.

The 28-year-old athlete was targeted in a racist rant at the Grijalva Park in Orange, California, where she regularly trains. Kokumai is hoping to become the first Olympic gold medalist in karate, which is one of five new sports added to the Games program.

"It wasn't until later when I realized what happened — at the time you don't think much and just try to process what was happening, that maybe I was targeted because of how I look," she recounts to PEOPLE.

Kokumai, a first-generation American who was born to Japanese parents in Hawaii and lived in Japan as a child, was "minding my own business" at the local park where she usually goes to once a week when a man approached her and yelled at her.

"I try to go to the park to do some sprints for training. Most of the time, I go to get some fresh air and running is a way to get stress out," she explains. "It helps me when I'm running outside. It's something I do every day, but on that day I was about to go on a run and was on the phone with a friend as I was heading into the park."

The athlete says that she was FaceTiming with headphones in while entering the park, so didn't notice that someone was yelling at first. Only when she removed the earbuds did she realize that a man was directing his screams at her.

Kokumai remembers feeling "frustrated" and "mad" as the man continued berating her. "He came closer and started yelling. The racial slurs didn't come out until the very end. Before that, he noticed how short I was, how small I was. He did mention that he could hurt me or whoever I was talking to. That's when I felt a little bit scared," she says.

"I looked around and there were people at the park so I made sure I didn't put myself in danger as well because you just never know. I was aware of the environment and trying to see if something were to happen, there would be people. But I saw people and noticed they didn't do anything. Towards the end, when it escalated, a lady with a dog came by to ask if I was okay. Until then, one guy looked at me and smiled before walking away," the star describes.

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