Canadian world champ Jessica Klimkait makes history with Olympic bronze in women's judo
Published Monday, July 26, 2021 1:30AM EDT Last Updated Monday, July 26, 2021 8:48AM EDT
TOKYO -- Jessica Klimkait was dealing with a mix of emotions as she slowly walked into a back hallway of the Nippon Budokan on Monday night.
She made history moments earlier when she beat Kaja Kajzer of Slovenia by waza-ari to win bronze at the Tokyo Games, becoming the first Canadian to reach the Olympic podium in women's judo.
But Klimkait, her eyes bloodshot and fatigue evident after four bouts on the day, couldn't hide her overall disappointment. The world champion in the under-57-kilogram division was reeling after coming up short of her ultimate goal.
"Right now I'm going to be emotional about missing that gold medal," she said, her voice cracking at times. "But I think looking back I'm going to be proud of myself because I know the last two or three years mentally and physically have been extremely hard.
"I honestly don't even know how I pulled myself through it. So I think I'll just be proud of myself."
Klimkait went to extra time against Sarah Leonie Cysique of France in the semifinals but lost by ippon when she was assessed a shido for a false attack. It was Klimkait's third penalty of the bout, and it gave Cysique the victory.
The 24-year-old from Whitby, Ont., blitzed through her first two opponents on the day, advancing via ippon in under two minutes each time.
But Cysique did well to counter the Canadian, who maintained her aggressive style throughout the match. Klimkait can throw from a variety of positions, but her opponent was able to neutralize her.
Both athletes had two penalties in extra time, but Klimkait mistimed a grip attempt and it proved costly.
"When that fight ended it was just like blank space for me in my mind," she said. "The realization didn't catch up to me yet. I still was in the fight until I guess I stepped down the stairs (from the mat) and realized I was going into the bronze final and not the real final."
Klimkait had less than an hour to re-focus for the third-place match. She said she "sulked a little bit" after the defeat before concentrating on the task at hand.
"At the end of the day I'm just happy that I was able to collect myself after that loss and come away with a medal," she said.
Canadian Arthur Margelidon had a chance for bronze in the men's under-73-kilogram category but settled for fifth place when he was submitted by Mongolia's Tsogtbaatar Tsend-Ochir.
"He got caught, he left his arm out, he got arm-barred," said national team assistant coach Sasha Mehmedovic. "It was not what he hoped for and not what he expected. He's devastated."
Klimkait battled through a knee injury in the pandemic-affected season last year and had been pushed by Canadian rival Christa Deguchi. Klimkait took the lone national entry for Tokyo in the weight class with her recent world title.
Stomping her feet on the mat before the start of competition, Klimkait immediately goes into attack mode. The opposition is forced to play defence right away and is often overwhelmed.
She opened with a victory over Bulgaria's Ivelina Ilieva and impressed again in a dominant quarterfinal win over Poland's Julia Kowalczyk.
Brimming with confidence, Klimkait is an imposing figure on the mat. Her speed stands out and her ease of movement presents a problem for opponents. Combined with her strength and aggressive style, Klimkait can be a handful.
Athletes emphatically walked to the mat to a blaring mix of rock and techno in the famous arena. The 11,000-seat venue is a combat sports shrine that has also hosted notable concerts by The Beatles and Cheap Trick.
A few hundred team officials were scattered around the mostly empty stands. Coaches and team officials barked orders from the side of the mat or the first few rows of seats.
Klimkait's result bumped Canada's Olympic all-time judo medal total to six (two silver, four bronze). It was Canada's first podium appearance since Antoine Valois-Fortier finished third at the 2012 London Games.
"That's obviously been a goal and a dream of mine, not only to attend the Olympic Games but to be on the podium," Klimkait said.
"Obviously the highest step of the podium would have been preferred, but I know that this is the first medal for women's judo in Canada and I'm happy that it's me."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 26, 2021.