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World Championships – Big aspirations for Team Canada

Montréal, August 20, 2014 – Judo Canada will be sending a delegation of 11 athletes to the World Championships this year, and expectations for this group of judokas will be higher than ever. The competition will take place on August 25th in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

“It’s the first time in a while that we’ve had a group of athletes with a reasonably good chance of winning medals at a World Championships. I’d be the most surprised, and probably the most disappointed, if we missed out entirely on the podium,” admitted Judo Canada’s high performance director and head coach Nicolas Gill.

Amongst the favourites in their respective categories, Antoine Valois-Fortier (-81 kg), Kelita Zupancic (-70 kg), Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard (-57 kg) and Catherine Roberge (-78 kg) will lead the way for the Canadian contingent. “Kyle Reyes (-100 kg), who is the defending junior world champion and has put together some top notch performances of late, will also be one to watch,” affirmed Gill. “It’s safe to say that those five athletes will cause a lot of headaches for their opponents.”

Stéfanie Tremblay (-57 kg), Monika Burgess (-70 kg), Antoine Bouchard (-66 kg), Patrick Gagné (-66 kg), Alexis Morin-Martel (-73 kg) and Étienne Briand (-73 kg) will round out the Canadian squad. These judokas, who have also experienced some success on the international scene the last few months, all have the potential to come away with a top 16 finish, or even a top-10 if, “everything goes perfect,” Gill explained.

Among the younger judokas, Bouchard could be one of the breakthrough performers at the competition. The Quebecer is coming off of wins at Pan-American Opens in Miami and San Salvador. “He’s had some very good tournaments this summer. He’s still considered a junior judoka and this will be his first World Championships at the senior level. I think he’ll show up in Russia with the mindset that he has nothing to lose. He’s definitely someone that could come away with a decent result,” Gill acknowledged.

Beauchemin-Pinard moving up the ranks

Another junior judoka, Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard, has high hopes going into her first senior World Championships in the under 57 kg category. “I know I’m capable of winning a medal, and that will be my main objective going into the tourney. Obviously winning it all would be amazing, but it’s more reasonable to aim for a podium finish,” the Longueuil-native said.

The 20-year-old athlete has gained a ton of confidence these past few months, after a move to a different weight class in May of 2013 propelled her to new heights. “It was a gradual process. I did a few senior competitions at the beginning of the year where I was pretty so-so. I had a lot of things to work on. It was around that point in the year that things really started to take off for me, and I began to reel off some top-notch performances.”

Things have definitely come together for the Quebecer, whose exploits this summer include a silver medal finish at the Junior World Championships. She recently returned home from her last tour with 3 gold medals, coming away victorious at the Pan-American Open in San Salvador, the Grand Prix of Mongolia, and the Russia Grand Slam. During her run, Beauchemin-Pinard twice defeated the American Marti Malloy, a bronze medallist at the London Games in 2012.

Coming into the biggest tournament of the season, she currently sits 9th in the world rankings of her category. Nevertheless, she knows that every match in Chelyabinsk will be fought tooth and nail. “It’s a World Championships, so there will be even more judokas than usual. Everyone will be there, so it will make the matches that much harder. I’m going to have to find a way to beat three really good athletes in a row,” explained Beauchemin-Pinard, who’s more than ready for the upcoming challenge.

Antoine Valois-Fortier aiming for a top finish

The biggest medal hopefuls for Team Canada in Russia will undoubtedly be the 3rd ranked Kelita Zupancic and Antoine Valois-Fortier, ranked 6th. Both of these young veterans of the National Team have had success-filled campaigns.

“My 2014 is going extremely well,” Valois-Fortier mentioned. I’ve been reaching the podium on a consistent basis these past few months, and have rarely ever thrown away matches. I’ve been feeling good, and have regularly been beating the best judokas in my class. It’s why I feel so strongly that I can come away with a podium finish.”

After battling through a season where he felt like there was a target on his back, the bronze medallist at the London Games rediscovered the approach that gained him success in the first place. “This year, I went into matches with the mindset that I wanted to win for myself, not for my sponsors, the media or the attention of others. I’m doing this for myself; that’s got to be the main priority.”

It’s a philosophy that’s worked to perfection. The 24-year-old from Beauport, Québec has put together the best Grand Slam performances of his career this year.

“I had never won a medal at a Grand Slam, the level of tournament that’s just a notch below a World Championship. In three Slams this year, I’ve won two bronze medals (in Baku, Azerbaijan and Tyumen, Russia) and a 5th place finish in Paris. If I’m consistently in the running for a medal in the biggest events on the circuit, I see no reason why I won’t be in the same position at a World Championships.”

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Written by Sportcom for Judo Canada