Canadian judoka Antoine Bouchard loses bronze medal match
Pan Am silver medalist falls to 3-time world champ
By Frederic Daigle, The Canadian Press
Antoine Bouchard came very close to giving Canada a surprise medal in judo for the second consecutive Olympics.
The 21-year-old judoka finished fifth after losing to Japan's Masashi Ebinuma in a 66-kilogram bronze-medal match at the Rio Olympics on Sunday. He fell just short of the bronze medal won by Antoine Valois-Fortier four years ago in London.
Ebinuma, a three-time world champion who added a second Olympic medal to his collection, took the match by ippon on a shoulder throw.
Bouchard, from Jonquiere, Que., native beat Mongolia's Tumurkhuleg Davaadorj in a repechage to advance to the third-place bout after losing his quarter-final to Slovenia's Adrian Gomboc earlier in the day. Bouchard took the repechage over Davaadorj by waza-ari.
Bouchard started his day with three straight wins, including a stunning victory in the round of 32 over Russia's Mikhail Puliaev, a silver medallist at the 2014 and 2015 world championship.
"I told myself after I beat those guys that even if the Japanese is a three-time world champion, that I would approach this fight with confidence," Bouchard said.
Bouchard limited the damage during half of the bronze-medal match, but when Ebinuma scored a yoku to take the lead by a point, the tide started to turn.
"Ebinuma... there's a strong chance he's one of the best of his generation," said Nicolas Gill, Canada's head coach. "He's one of the three big favourites of the tournament.
"The fight was going relatively well, but he has some extraordinary abilities. I think that once he implemented the yuko, that was the stab in the heart [for Antoine]."
Bouchard, who won a silver medal at the Pan American Games in Toronto in 2015, opened the day with a victory by ippon over Papua New Guinea's Raymond Ovinou in just 43 seconds, then beat Morocco's Imad Bassou in the round of 16.
"He's an experienced judoka," said Bouchard of Ebinuma. "I'm surely not the first guy that he's beaten like that."
Gill said the key fight of the day was against Russia's Puliaev.
"I hoped that fight would last long enough for him take the pulse to be comfortable," Gill said. "He handled himself well and I said to myself, 'That's a good sign."'
The bronze medal match was the sixth fight of the day for Bouchard. It's a level of judo that Gill didn't think his judoka had.
"To come to the Olympics and perform your best, that's a talent few have," Gill said. "He's not in yet in the window of performance, which theoretically isn't before ages 23-27. That still leaves him plenty of good years."
Bouchard, like his coach, was also trying to stay positive.
"At this moment, it's really hard to think that I came so close to a medal," said Bouchard. "I would imagine, with hindsight, I'll realize what I accomplished.
"But I think that it's the best day of my life."