October 25th, 2020

Canada’s top judokas in city practising with an eye on Olympics


By Woodard, Dale on August 8, 2020.

Antoine Bouchard grapples with Antoine Valois-Fortier as athletes from Judo Canada train earlier week at the Lethbridge Kyodokan Judo Club. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Dale Woodard

Lethbridge Herald

sports@lethbridgeherald.com

It wasn’t quite the 30th birthday present Antoine Valois-Fortier had hoped for.

Still, the 30-year-old member of Judo Canada’s goal for a third Olympic berth remains the focus, albeit a slightly delayed one.

Valois-Fortier, who hails from Quebec City, and the rest of the Judo Canada team have called Lethbridge home for the past three weeks, training at the Lethbridge Kyodokan Judo Club.

Though glad to be back in training mode as the COVID-19 pandemic still lingers, Valois-Fortier’s plan for a third Olympic appearance was sidelined on March 13 – his birthday – when the pandemic shut down the sporting world, bumping the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo to 2021.

“Obviously the egocentric athlete in me was frustrated at first,” said Valois-Fortier, who competed at the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2016 Games in Rio. “But then you understand how the big situation is and how important the health of everyone is. So it’s the right decision to postpone. But it is what it is, not what it should be, and we try to make the best out of the situation, focus on what we can control and keep our Olympic objectives in mind.”

Up until his birthday, athletes were allowed to practise judo in Valois-Fortier’s home province.

“Then it shut down and it hasn’t started since,” he said. “So (for about) two months we have been allowed to go to gyms to do physical preparation, but everything with judo with another partner hasn’t been allowed in Quebec.”

As such, the Judo Canada squad has been calling southern Alberta home this summer.

“It’s the second three-week trip we’ve had here,” said Valois-Fortier. “It was my first time in Lethbridge this summer. I really enjoyed it. It’s the best opportunity for us to train right now one year away from the Games. It’s essential and the best thing we can ask for. We’re really happy to be training.

“Every accommodation has been great and we have access to great facilities. We’re staying together in the bubble and we don’t mix with other athletes from the area.”

Prior to the pandemic, Olympic qualifications were supposed to end in May, a two-year process, said Valois-Fortier.

“With the situation we have not resumed international tournaments yet. They’re planning to start in September. We’ll see if we can make this happen. But my understanding is as soon as it resumes it will be qualifications until May of (2021).”

Until the team gets concrete answers, Judo Canada coach Sasha Mehmedovic said his athletes are taking a week-by-week approach.

“Obviously when you hear rumours of (whether) the Games are going to happen or not happen, it plays in their head and some get motivated and some get depressed,” he said. “For me, my job it to keep them focused and keep reminding them the Games are still going on as far as we know. So we have to train like they’re still going on. For us, the main question for us is when our circuit is going to fire up again. Obviously, we want to get on the road and fight. Some of them still need to finish their qualifications. So we try to stay as positive as we can. But at the end of the day there are only certain things we can control. For the rest we have to leave it up to chance and hopefully things get back to normal as soon as possible.”

For Valois-Fortier, that means continuing his quest for a third Olympic appearance.

He won the bronze medal in the under 81-kilogram category at the 2012 Olympics, becoming the first Canadian to win a medal in Olympic judo in 12 years and the fifth to win one in Canadian history. He placed seventh in Rio in 2016.

“It was two very different experiences,” said Valois-Fortier of his Olympic competitions. “The first one I was kind of the underdog, nobody was expecting me to perform. The next was the opposite. So I think I’ve learned a lot from both, mainly the importance of focusing on the process and not on the result. Just keeping my objectives short and going one step at a time is key for me, otherwise I get too anxious about the future and things I can’t control.”

Valois-Fortier has won over 20 World Cup medals, winning gold in 2017 at the Grand Prix in Hohhot. He also took bronze at the Grand Prix in Tbilisi and Antalya in 2019 and earned silver at the Grand Prix in Montreal and Zagreb.

“I’m really happy about the past year,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of injuries between 2016 and 2018, so I was really happy to bounce back in 2019. It was great momentum and I had great season going into the Olympics. But I’m confident with the team surrounding me right now I’ll be in a great position next year.”

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