The national judo team had never won three medals at a world championship before this week. A bumper harvest that sums up Antoine Valois-Fortier’s world firsts as a coach, having experienced six of them as an athlete.
The Canadian delegation included nine judokas and placed ninth in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
“All the ups and downs of this week will stay with me as a unique experience,” declared Valois-Fortier.
Jessica Klimkait, the defending champion in the sub-57kg class, is this time on the third step of the podium in her category. Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard won the under 63kg silver the next day, Kyle Reyes did the same on Tuesday under 100kg.
Shady ElNahas (-100kg) and Arthur Margelidon (-73kg) may have been hoping for better but they still managed seventh place led by Valois-Fortier who rushed to tell the whole team, interviewed by Sportcom, to humbly congratulate.
“I’m super happy and I think it’s important to highlight the work of all the other coaches and the people who were there before me. I’ve been training at Judo Canada for a few months, I don’t think these athletes have only evolved in the last nine months,” he specifies.
The London Games Olympic medalist has won a silver and two bronze medals at World Championships over the course of his career. He also has six Grand Slam podiums and eight Grand Prix.
He announced his retirement last year after competing in his third Olympics. However, Valois-Fortier assures that the nervousness he experienced while fighting on the tatami mats is still there. The difference is that it now manifests itself in multiple weight classes throughout the week.
“I feel even more stressed and longer! It’s a lot of anxiety, just as much if not more than before, but it’s still comfortable and emotional,” he laughs.
Since officially taking office in January 2022, Antoine Valois-Fortier has continued his education as a coach. Having a cohort as talented as the Canada team has also made the transition easier for him.
“They are mature athletes, both in judo and between the ears. They quickly gave me space and trusted me. I’m very lucky,” said the coach.
“[Au début], it was all about getting to know everyone. I don’t want to make the mistake of training every athlete the same way. Everyone is different and it is a learning that continues to this day.
The achievements signed in Tashkent are encouraging for the future and set the stage for the Olympic qualification process. Canadian judokas in particular may have been influenced by their coach’s determination, which was only accentuated in Uzbekistan.
“To see the athletes are at this level in such an important competition is really cool. It allows me to aim high and I hope it motivates them too. We can prepare to perform at these events. We know what we’re doing, you just need the right recipe at the right time,” concludes Valois-Fortier.
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