Jessica Klimkait's Journey to Olympic Bronze
No Easy Road for Canadian Judoka Jessica Klimkait
For most judokas being in the Top 2 in the world rankings would mean a guaranteed place in the Olympics. But not for Canada’s Jessica Klimkait, for also in her weight class was Christa Deguchi, a World Champion who had beaten Klimkait six times in IJF events.
Because their rankings were so close (at times Klimkait would be No. 1 and Deguchi No. 2, and other times, it would be Deguchi who was at No. 1), Judo Canada had decided to have a special contest consisting of three matches to determine who would go to the Olympics. Then, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and ruined those plans.
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Later, it was decided that whoever would do better at the 2021 Hungary World Championships would be the one chosen for Tokyo 2020. Going into the championships, most pundits would have placed their money on Deguchi, although Klimkait had a strong track record at IJF events. As it turned out, it was Klimkait who won the gold medal, and she did so by beating the Japanese player, Momo Tamaoki, who had earlier beaten Deguchi in the semifinal. And with that, Klimkait won her spot for Tokyo 2020.
Going into the Olympics, Klimkait was the favorite. For sure there were a lot of top athletes in her category. In fact, the women’s -57kg division was arguably the toughest weight class in the women’s competition. But Klimkait had shown in recent IJF events that she was capable of beating them all.
Her first match was against Ivelina Ilieva of Bulgaria, whom she beat with a Matsumoto Roll (an osaekomi turnover made famous by Japan’s Kaori Matsumoto). This was quite a surprise because Klimkait normally doesn’t do much groundwork and whenever she did, she would usually do a sankaku. But she had obviously been practicing the Matsumoto Roll because she moved into it expertly.
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Her second match, against the reverse seoi-nage expert Julia Kowalczyk of Poland, was also won on the ground. This time it was with her usual newaza technique, reverse sankaku.
Klimkait’s semifinal match was against her old rival Sarah Leonie Cysique of France, whom she had fought five times before (and had won four of those matches). Having lost to Klimkait so many times before, Cysique had managed to figure out how to frustrate Klimkait’s drop techniques, so much so that by the end of regular time, Klimkait had accrued two shidos. This is pretty rare given Klimkait’s incredible work-rate. She was attacking Cysique but her attacks just weren’t working.
One minute into Golden Score, disaster nearly struck Cysique, who had somehow gotten injured following a low ouchi-gari attack by Klimkait. Cysique was visibly limping and was not able to fight the way she had done in regular time. Soon enough, she got her first shido. Then a second shido came.
They were now even, but Klimkait made a big mistake when she was being pressured at the edge of the mat. She dropped down for seoi-nage without a proper grip on her opponent. She was given her third shido (for a false attack) and thus was disqualified.
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Some players would become despondent after failing to make it to the final. This happens quite a lot to the top favorites of each competition. Well, Klimkait was the favorite going into the competition but she was far from demoralized. She put in a really solid performance against Kaja Kajzer of Slovenia, blitzing her with a flurry of drop seoi-nages and sode-tsurikomi-goshis.
Kajzer had accrued two shidos during regular time and was in danger of getting her third shido, in Golden Score, when Klimkait suddenly dropped underneath and flung her over with the inevitable drop sode-tsurikomi-goshi for waza-ari. And with that, Klimkait was able to add an Olympic bronze next to her world title.