Montréal, August 28, 2014 – For the first time in almost 15 years, a Canadian judoka climbed onto the podium at a world championships, Thursday, as Antoine Valois-Fortier came away with a silver medal in the under 81 kg class in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
The bronze medalist at the London Games is the first Canadian judoka to come away with a medal at a world championships since 1999, when Nicolas Gill won bronze in the under 100 kg division at the event presented in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Valois-Fortier also equaled the best ever result by a Canadian in the history of the competition, with Gill having won silver in 1995 at the championships in Hamilton.
“Today will go down as one of the best performances of my career. I’ll never forget it, that’s for sure! It was truly a memorable day,” declared the 6th ranked judoka in the under 81 kg class, who despite the great achievement was his usual, laid-back self.
It was no easy feat for the Quebecer, who took on all three of the top judokas in his category on Thursday. “I beat a number of the best competitors in my class, including the defending champion. I’m thrilled with my performances today.”
He also mentioned how happy he was to share the love with Gill, the national team’s coach. “I credit a large part of my success to Nicolas. He’s obtained several top results at this level. He’s helped me so much to manage my emotions, endurance, and tactical awareness. He’s done a lot for me.”
An honorable defeat
In the grand finale, the Quebecois went up against the Georgian Avtandili Tchrikishvili, who currently sits atop the IJF standings. Already a winner this year at the Paris Grand Slam and runner-up at the 2013 World Championships, he defeated Valois-Fortier by a waza-ari to claim gold.
Extremely aggressive in the opening moments of the bout, Tchrikishvili scored at the :55 mark when he caught Valois-Fortier in a counter-attack and threw him to ground. Initially called an ippon by the referee, the maneuver was finally changed to a waza-ari. It would be enough for the eventual champion, who would go on to block every attack by the Quebecer to come away victorious.
“I fell behind in the contest very early on. I put the pressure on for the rest of the fight, but I couldn’t find a way to break through. It was a pretty tight affair, though,” explained the Quebecois athlete.
Valois-Fortier reached the finale by taking down in impressive fashion the defending world champion, the Frenchman Loïc Pietri. Active throughout, he forced the #2 ranked judoka and silver medalist in Paris into very defensive positions, which eventually led to a penalty for passivity near the middle of the bout.
The 24-year-old judoka then went on to make smart, measured attacks, all the while blocking any of Pietri’s advances. In the end it was sweet revenge for the Quebecer, who fell to the Frenchman in the semifinals of the Paris Grand Slam in February.
“It’s probably the best win of my career. I walked onto the tatamis maybe not feeling the most confident, but I knew that I had it in me to win the match. I kept a good rhythm and followed my game plan to a tee.”
“I wanted to control the pace. I knew that he didn’t have the physical conditioning to keep up with me. I didn’t want to let him put his right hand on my judogi, because I know that he’s capable of really good attacks when he places his right hand,” Valois-Fortier went on to explain, in reference to his game plan.
Despite the loss, Pietri fought on to claim one of the two available bronze medals. The Russian Ivan Nifontov also made his way onto the third step of the podium.
The enigma of Victor Penalber resolved
In the quarterfinals, Valois-Fortier finally got the better of one his arch nemesis, the Brazilian Victor Penalber, who has defeated him in the last two Pan-American Championships finales. This time he took care of the 3rd ranked judoka by a waza-ari.
“I’m really happy to have finally beaten him after three straight losses,” he exclaimed, having also lost to Penalber at the semifinals of the Grand Slam of Tyumen in Russia, a little over a month ago. “It was another satisfying victory for me today.”
Earlier, he made the Uzbek Shukhratjon Arslanov (32nd) his first victim of the day, before taking down the Tunisian Abdelaziz Ben Ammar, 45th, by a waza-ari, and the North Korean Hong Wi Pak, 126th, by an ippon.
Thursday marked the 6th time that Valois-Fortier had claimed a podium finish at an international event in 2014. “It was a fantastic season for me. I’m really happy to have had a summer like that.”
Eliminated in the round of 16 at the 2013 World Championships, and a round earlier in 2011, the Quebecer was happy to have been able to answer the bell this time around, especially after his showing at the London Games.
“One of the reasons why I came up short at last year’s World Championships was because I wasn’t able to manage being a marked man. I feel like I’ve learnt how to deal with that extra pressure now, and today’s performance gives me a ton of confidence going forward, with the 2016 Rio Games around the corner.”
A gold medal is now just a step away for the Quebecer. “Slowly but surely I’m progressing, with the hopes that my next medal will be of the golden variety.”
Friday, the Ontarian Kelita Zupancic and the Quebecoise Monika Burgess (via Kitchener, Ontario) will be in action in the under 70 kg class, while the Quebecoise Catherine Roberge will ply her trade in the under 78 kg category.
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Written by Sportcom for Judo Canada