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Canadian athletes eager to stand out at Grand Prix Montreal

2 Jul 2019 09:20

 Judo Canada    Canada Judo

Almost a year before the start of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, on July 5-7, the world’s best judokas will be gathered at the Maurice-Richard Arena for the Montreal Grand Prix. As part of the Olympic qualification process, 49 Canadian athletes will have a chance to score valuable points, and they’ll do it in front of a home crowd, a precious asset for them.

“Canadian athletes will be able to compete with all the at-home advantages: cheering from the crowd, no jet lag, and we’ll be staying home,” said Antoine Valois-Fortier, a veteran on the Canadian team who knows a great comeback on the mat after a back surgery.

The London bronze medallist recently won to bronze medals in Grand Prix, on top of the Pan American Champion title.

“Of course, there will be a little more pressure than usual, because we want to perform well in front of our family and friends, but it’ll bring out the best in most athletes. It’ll be a big show!”

Three-time medallist in Grand Slam in the last season, including a gold medal at the Osaka Grand Slam in November 2018, Ontarian Jessica Klimkait will also benefit from the support of her friends and family, who will drive from Whitby, her native town, to see the Grand Prix in Montreal. “It’s really exciting to compete at this level at home. It’ll be nice for our team to be able to showcase our skills in front of a home crowd!”

If anyone on the Canadian team has enough hindsight to know the importance of the Montreal Judo Grand Prix, it would be retired athlete Nicolas Gill, who is now the CEO and High Performance Director of Judo Canada.

“It’s a historic event! Last time Canada hosted an event of this size was in 1993, when Hamilton hosted the World Championships.”

He should know, having won a silver medal in U86 kg, a category that doesn’t exist anymore, and “with a weight I’ll never see again!” he joked, 26 years later.

The Montreal Grand Prix is the most important judo event since the 1976 Olympic Games. “The magnitude of this event for our sport is huge,” explained Gill.

Jessica Klimkait thinks judo has never had such a beautiful platform. “Since this is the first Grand Prix ever held in Canada, it will play an important role in bringing awareness and exposure of judo across the country, and especially to local judokas in Montreal,” she added.

The tournament on Canadian soil will launch the second and last year of the Olympic qualification process.

Jessica Klimkait, hoping to be part of the Canadian team in Tokyo, sees this stop in Montreal as positive.

“There’s more pressure having this tournament held in Canada; however, I think that this pressure will actually impact me in a positive way, making me even more excited than usual to compete and do well.”

Nicolas Gill can already see the effects of media interest. “It’s a great way to promote judo in the media. So far, media exposure fosters the interest and it’s very positive.”

The Importance of Standing Out

A single athlete in each category will represent Canada at the Tokyo Olympic Games. The depth gained by the Canadian team over the years means no athlete will have their spot on the team handed on a silver platter, even for World Championships medallists like Christa Deguchi (bronze, 2018) and Antoine Valois-Fortier (silver, 2014; bronze, 2015).

Olympians Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard and Antoine Bouchard, who both went up a category since the 2016 Olympics, have adapted well to the change and will be to watch.

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  • Antoine Valois-Fortier (CAN) - Grand Prix Montreal (2019, CAN) - © Canada Judo
  • Kelita Zupancic (CAN) - Grand Prix Montreal (2019, CAN) - © Canada Judo
  • Jessica Klimkait (CAN) - Grand Prix Montreal (2019, CAN) - © Canada Judo

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