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Shady ElNahas found himself in front of a raucous, hostile crowd as he competed in the under-100 kg final at the Pan-American Games in Santiago. The enthusiastic fans were cheering for Chile’s Thomas Briceno, the nation’s first judoka to reach a final since the judo tournaments began.
Nevertheless, ElNahas drew strength from the crowd to defeat Briceno by ippon after just a few minutes, securing Canada’s first gold medal on the tatamis in Santiago. “Canada hadn’t yet won a gold medal since the weekend began. I wanted [the team] to bring at least one gold medal home, and I’m proud to be the one who won it,” said ElNahas. Following his final victory, ElNahas quickly pulled his opponent to his feet and raised his arms into the air, as a sign of respect. The crowd appeared to appreciate the gesture, sending a final wave of support to their local hero. “I love it when the crowd is against me. It motivates me even more! But at the end of the day, I’m in Thomas Briceno’s home, and it was important to show him some respect. I wanted the crowd to know that he’s a really good athlete, and that they should be proud of him.” On his way to the top of the podium, the 25-year-old Ontarian won his first two bouts of the day, defeating both Nathaniel Keeve of the USA and Leonardo Goncalves of Brazil by ippon—the latter in the semi-final. ElNahas’s victory is all the more impressive considering that only four days ago, he was competing in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam in the United Arab Emirates, where he won a bronze medal. However, it was important to ElNahas to participate in the Pan-American Games, despite the many long hours of flying to get there. “It was very tiring for me to have to make weight twice in such a short time. I travelled for more than 30 hours to get here. I’m going to sleep very well tonight! It’s a big tournament, and lots of athletes dream of participating in it. My team took really good care of me so that I wouldn’t feel too tired,” he concluded. Marc Deschênes, who was also in action on Monday, bowed out to Brazil’s Rafael Silva in one of the two over-100 kg bronze medal finals. Earlier, he had defeated Freddy Figueroa of Ecuador before being edged out by in the semi-final by another fan favourite, Francisco Solis of Chile. “I was very disappointed to lose the semi-final. I knew the fight against Silva would be hard. I tried to move him, but he’s much bigger than I am, and my game plan didn’t work. I went in with an intensity level of 200%, and I tried to maintain that level of energy for the entire four minutes. It was fun, but it didn’t work,” said Deschênes, following his last bout of the day. Coralie Godbout (-78 kg) did not win any of her matches on Monday. She bowed out to Eiraima Silvestre of the Dominican Republic in her opening bout, then lost to Camila Figueroa of Peru in the repechage. “Even though I lost my first fight, I still think I fought well. I made an error, and she scored a point. After that, I wasn’t able to come back. I’m disappointed that I lost in the repechage. My opponent was left-handed, like me, and I still have trouble in that situation. Physically I’m fine, but I need to improve mentally and in terms of positioning,” explained Godbout. The Canadian team will therefore depart Santiago with one gold medal, two silver ( Julien Frascadore and Isabelle Harris) and two bronze ( David Popovici et Antoine Bouchard). A team tournament is scheduled for Tuesday at the Pan-American Games, but no Canadian athletes will be taking part.