Priscilla Gagné had a dream week in Tokyo. For the judoka from Sarnia, it started when she carried Canada’s flag in the opening ceremonies of the Paralympic Games and culminated in a silver medal on Friday. She became the first Canadian woman in history to win a medal in her discipline, and although she would have preferred the top spot on the podium, she is as proud as can be of her accomplishments over the past few days.
“I finished with a silver medal, so I can’t say I’m disappointed! My training this summer was really difficult, but it was worth it. I beat some strong opponents today [Friday] and I gave my all. I’m really happy with the outcome,” stated Gagné, following the under-52 kg medal ceremony.
Gagné faced a difficult challenge in the gold medal final, where she battled Algeria’s Cherine Abdellaoui, to whom she had lost twice in the past. However, the Canadian had no intentions of making it easy for Abdellaoui, who is currently ranked fourth in the world and who finished third at the Rio Paralympic Games. She fended off several attacks before Abdellaoui managed to score a waza-ari in the second minute of the bout.
With guidance and encouragement from her coach Andrzej Sadej, Gagné recovered well and took control of the match, but was unable to follow through on her attacks. In the end, she was thrown by her opponent, who shut down the bout by scoring an ippon.
“I knew she [Abdellaoui] was going to be tough to beat. She’s very strong and very fast. She was very dynamic, she made some solid attacks and I wasn’t able to hold her off,” explained Gagné, who had dominated her earlier matches of the day.
After beating Russian Paralympic Committee athlete Alesia Stepaniuk by waza-ari in the quarter-final, Gagné, who is ranked second worldwide, only needed 23 seconds in the semi-final to dispatch of Germany’s Ramona Brussig, the bronze medallist in Rio, and advance to the final round.
“I felt good and I was on a mission here [in Tokyo]. This was the second time I beat Alesia Stepaniuk after losing to her for most of my career. I also beat my friend Ramona Brussig for the first time ever, which was great,” explained the Canadian, who finished fifth in Rio.
Gagné’s silver medal closes out an arduous Paralympic cycle that included a forced break and hip surgery that put the brakes on her training program in 2020.
Now, just over 14 months later, those obstacles are all behind her and she is honoured to have made history with her compatriots Jessica Klimkait and Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard, both of whom also achieved firsts in Canadian judo history by winning bronze medals in their respective categories at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“It’s a huge honour! They’re amazing women with big hearts and I’ll be linked to them forever. We made history together, and that’s very special to me.”
Gagné will return to Canada on Sunday with a sense of accomplishment. She will enjoy a well-deserved break before deciding on her future plans. At age 35, she has not ruled out participating in the Paris Games, where she could take a final shot at becoming Paralympic champion.
“Before I do anything else, I’m going to spend some time with my family. Then, I’ll talk to my coach and other team members to figure out what’s next. I’m going to take it one day at a time and see where it all leads,” she concluded.