Canadian world champion Jessica Klimkait wins Olympic bronze in women's judo

Jessica Klimkait was commerce with a mix of feelings as she gradually walked into a back hallway of the Nippon Budokan on Monday night.

She made history instants previous when she beat Kaja Kajzer of Slovenia by waza-ari to win bronze at the Tokyo Games, flattering the first Canadian to reach the Olympic dais in women’s judo.

But Klimkait, her eyes red and fatigue evident after four sessions 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 very hard.

“I honestly don’t even know how I dragged myself finished it. So, I think I’ll just be pleased of myself.”

Canadian world champion Jessica Klimkait wins Olympic bronze in women's judo

Klimkait went to extra time in contradiction of 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 finished her first two opponents on the day, advancing via ippon in under two minutes each time.

But Cysique did well to pawn 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 sportspersons had two consequences 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.

Stamping her feet on the mat before the start of rivalry, 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 awe-struck again in a dominant quarterfinal win over Poland’s Julia Kowalczyk.

Full 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.

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Athletes forcefully walked to the mat to a deafening 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 administrators were dispersed 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 clearly 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 dais 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.”