Road To The Olympic Games

Summer Sports·Preview

Taekwondo qualifier puts Maxime Potvin's Olympic dream to the test

Four Canadian taekwondo athletes are in Mexico for the Pan American qualification tournament, where the top two athletes in each division will earn spots in the Rio Olympics.

28-year-old taekwondo athlete needs top 2-finish to qualify for Rio 2016

Canada's Maxime Potvin, right, competes against Mexico's Saul Gutierrez during his silver-medal performance in the men's under-68kg final taekwondo match at the Pan Am Games. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

After 20 years of training, Maxime Potvin's dream of becoming an Olympian may become a reality.

The 28-year-old is one of four Canadian taekwondo athletes in Aguascalientes, Mexico, competing at the Pan Am qualifying tournament Thursday and Friday. Eighty-five athletes from 26 countries will be competing; the top two finishers in each division earn a spot at the Rio Olympics. 

Potvin, who competes in the men's 68-kilogram weight class, likes his chances.

"I know that I have a pretty good chance to be an Olympian [one] day," Potvin told CBC Sports. "I can say in the balance between nerves and confidence, that I'm more confident than nervous.

"We have a strong team going there so I expect a minimum of two spots," said Taekwondo Canada's executive director, Darlene MacDonald. "Three [qualifications] would be great; four would be fantastic.

"Every one of them is capable of getting a spot."

This is the last chance for Canadians to qualify for the Games. Miss out, and they'll have to look towards Tokyo 2020.

Days away from Olympic dream

For Potvin, who's from Quebec City, going to the Olympics "would be a life achievement."

He's been practicing taekwondo since he was seven years old, but has never been to an Olympics, having narrowly missed out on qualifying for the London Games in 2012.

I still have the fire in my body and I still have the fire in my mind.- Maxime Potvin

Since then, he has changed his approach, putting school on pause (he only has three courses left before he gets his bachelor's in sports intervention at Laval University) and taking leave from his job with the Canadian military. He also added to his support staff; he sees his sports psychologist, chiropractor, physiotherapist and nutritionist every week.

The results appear to have paid off for the 2015 season. He won silver at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto and again at the Canada Open in February.

"I had a very good performance at the Canada Open," said Potvin. "And I think if I fight like that at this event, I'll have a pretty good chance to be at the top of the podium."

And if he doesn't qualify this weekend?

"I feel good in my sport and I think I can do another cycle," said Potvin. "I still love training and travel and doing competition. I still have the fire in my body and I still have the fire in my mind, and I think I'm still motivated to fight."

Team Canada

Potvin's first fight is on Friday. His first-place ranking in the tournament puts him through to the second round. He is joined by teammates Marc-Andre Bergeron (men's 80kg division,) Melissa Pagnotta (women's under-67kg) and Yvette Yong (women's under-49kg,) who competed today and lost in the quarter-finals to Candelaria Marte of the Dominican Republic. 

Bergeron also competed Thursday, winning a quarter-final match versus Jayson Grant of Jamaica. He was then defeated by Stephen Lambdin of the U.S. in the semifinals. Had he won in the semis, Bergeron would have secured his spot in Rio in the 80-kilogram event. 

All four of Canada's athletes are ranked top-three in their respective weight classes in this tournament. None of them have ever competed at the Olympics. 

Though "Canada is very strong" in the Pan Am region, MacDonald said, the real challenge comes at international competitions. Countries such as South Korea (where taekwondo originated), Iran and China have very strong programs, and MacDonald expects them to do well in the Olympics.

"It's going to be a big hill to climb," MacDonald said about her team potentially competing on the world's biggest stage. 

Potvin, whose division is in a tight race, is ready for the challenge.

"If I go to the Olympics I have a good chance to be on the podium because in my division it's pretty close between every competitor," he said. "Only one head shot can change the fight.

"But I think what makes a big difference is how your mentality is for the competition, [if you're] confident in yourself."


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