Jessica Klimkait leads Canada's quest for 1st Olympic judo gold

Reigning world champion Jessica Klimkait will be joined by three returning Rio Olympians and two fellow Olympic newcomers in the quest for Canada's first judo Olympic gold medal at Tokyo 2020.

Everything you need to know about judo at Tokyo 2020

Jessica Klimkait, pictured at the 2021 championships, will be joined by three returning Rio Olympians and two fellow Olympic newcomers in the quest for Canada's first Olympic judo gold medal. (Attila Kisbenedek/Getty Images)

Canadian judoka Jessica Klimkait had a unique path to the Games.

The world No. 1 was able to focus on recovering from a knee injury while competition was halted during the pandemic, and she booked her spot in the Olympics while claiming a world title last month, avoiding a fight-off with Canadian rival Christa Deguchi.

She is only the second judo world champion in Canadian history, following Deguchi, who she beat out for a single spot in Tokyo.

Klimkait will be joined by three returning Rio Olympians and two fellow Olympic newcomers in the quest for Canada's first Olympic judo gold medal.

Canada hasn't won an Olympic medal in judo since the 2012 Games, but the last Canadian judoka to reach the podium, Antoine Valois-Fortier, is returning for his third Olympics.

Here's everything you need to know about judo at the Tokyo Olympics:


386 athletes (193 men, 193 women) will compete across 15 gold medal events designated by weight (14 individual events, 1 mixed team event). The men's and women's individual competitions are each divided into seven weight classes, with each nation fielding one entry per class.

The athletes will compete in four-minute matches in a single-elimination tournament at the iconic Nippon Budokan, with the field split into two tables. The top eight judokas are seeded to prevent an early matchup between the highest-ranked competitors, while the remaining judokas are divided into four pools through a draw.

The winner of each table advances to the gold medal match, and the four judokas who lose during the quarter-finals are split into two repechage contests. The two winners of the repechage matches will each face the semifinal loser from the other table in one of two bronze medal matches.

There will also be a new mixed team event featuring teams consisting of three men and three women of different weight classes that are drawn from the individual competitions.

Canadian competitors

Klimkait, 24, is ready for her Olympic debut in the -57kg event after winning her first world title last month.

Klimkait and Deguchi were originally on a path to face each other in 2020 for the only -57kg Olympic spot before Klimkait suffered a knee injury and competition was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She avoided a fight-off with Deguchi, ranked second in the world, and the layoff allowed Klimkait to recover before competition resumed later that year.

Klimkait moved past Deguchi for top spot in world rankings with her gold medal win at the 2020 Budapest grand slam, and she earned the honour to represent Canada by finishing higher than her at the 2021 world championships in Budapest.

Her impressive resume also includes gold at the Pan Am championships in 2017 and the Dusseldorf grand slam in 2020.

WATCH | Klimkait becomes 2nd Canadian to win Judo world title:

Jessica Klimkait wins judo world championship gold and qualifies for Tokyo Olympics

2 years ago
Duration 11:40
Featured VideoJessica Klimkait of Whitby, Ont. became only the second Canadian to win a judo world championship title, defeating Momo Tamaoki of Japan in the women's under-57 kilogram final in Budapest, while also earning the right to represent Canada at the Tokyo Olympics.

Valois-Fortier, 30, brings the most Olympic experience to the team, entering his third Games after winning bronze in 2012 during his Olympic debut.

His Olympic medal was the first for a Canadian judoka since 2000, and he is aiming to return to the podium in the 81kg event after battling his way back from injuries in the years following his loss in the repechage match in Rio.

A seasoned veteran who overcame adversity to return from hip and back surgeries, Valois-Fortier has reached the podium in every appearance at the Pan American championships, including gold medal wins in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

He skipped the world championships last month to recover from an injury, but won bronze at the previous worlds in 2019.

Fellow Rio Olympian Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard, 27, has reached six straight podiums at the Pan Am championships since 2015, and she enters her second Olympics ranked No. 7 in the world at -63kg.

WATCH | Valois-Fortier ready for Tokyo after best season since surgeries:

My Story: Antoine Valois-Fortier is back for Tokyo after his best season yet

3 years ago
Duration 3:00
Featured VideoAfter a disappointing finish in Rio, the Olympic bronze medallist made the tough decision to undergo back surgery and it paid off. Valois-Fortier is headed to the games after recording his best season yet post-surgeries.

She has enjoyed a solid year so far, with a gold medal at the Tbilisi grand slam and a bronze medal at the Antalya grand slam. She won gold at both the 2020 and 2019 Pan Am championships, and she will continue her pursuit for an Olympic medal after failing to reach the podium in Rio.

Ecaterina Guica failed to earn a spot in the round of 16 after dropping her opening match to Belgium's Charline Van Snick in the -52kg event on Saturday night.

The 27-year-old finished ninth in her Olympic debut in 2016 and has continued to get better every year, culminating in her first gold medal at the Pan Am championships last year.

She returned to the mat after breaking her hand at the Tbilisi grand slam earlier this year, and she achieved her best finish at the world championships last month by reaching the third round for the first time.

Olympic rookies Arthur Margelidon and Shady El-Nahas make up the remainder of Canada's judo contingent, competing at -73kg and -100kg, respectively.

Margelidon, 27, has reached the podium three times since competition resumed in 2020, and he is currently eighth in the world rankings. A positive COVID-19 test held him out of the 2021 world championships.

El-Nahas is Canada's youngest wrestler in Tokyo. He won gold at the Tbilisi grand slam and has a pair of consecutive Pan Am gold medals on his resume. The 23-year-old is also world No. 8 in his weight class and has had invaluable coaching guidance from two-time Canadian Olympic wrestler Sasha Mehmedovic.

WATCH | El Nahas' Tokyo journey guided by 2-time Olympian Mehmedovic:

Shady El Nahas made the transition to elite athlete with the help of judo coach Sasha Mehmedovic

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Featured VideoThe pair started working together at the end of 2017 and his coach saw immense potential immediately, he just needed a push in the right direction and his coach, a two-time Olympian was the right person to do that.

International athletes to watch

Japan, where judo was born, is fielding a stacked lineup led by reigning Olympic and world champion Ono Shohei in the highly-competitive -73kg event.

Shohei enters as the favourite, but Rio runner-up Rustam Orujov of Azerbaijan is also returning for his second Olympic appearance.

Japanese stars Uta and Hifumi Abe made Olympic history on Sunday as the first siblings to win gold on the same day. Uta and Hifumi were making their Olympic debut as favourites in the -52kg and -66kg events, respectively.

France's Teddy Riner will attempt to reach his fourth straight Olympic podium in the +100kg event. The six-foot-eight heavyweight star can match an Olympic record by winning his third consecutive Olympic gold.

WATCH | Japan's Abe siblings each win gold within 1 hour of each other:

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Featured VideoNeed a refresher on judo? Get to know the sport before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

France has another favourite in four-time world champion Clarisse Agbegnenou, competing in the -63kg event. She is coming off a gold medal win at the 2021 world championships, and she is poised to win her first Olympic gold after claiming silver during her debut in Rio.

20-year-old Ukrainian Daria Bilodid, the youngest judoka to win two world titles, is making her anticipated Olympic debut in the -48kg event.

Two judokas will be breaking new ground in Tokyo, with Ebony Drysdale-Daley (-70kg) becoming the first Jamaican judoka in Olympic history, and Lærke Olsen (-63kg) competing as the first Danish female judoka in Olympic history.

Everything else

  • Athletes from 55 nations have reached the Olympic podium in Judo, representing all five continents
  • Japan has won the most Olympic medals overall in judo with 84, and the most Olympic gold medals with 39
  • Japan's Nomura Tadahiro is the only judoka to win gold at three straight Olympic Games
  • Doug Rogers took home Canada's first Olympic medal in judo when the sport made its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games in 1964, where he won silver

Medal matches

  • July 24: Women's -48kg and men's -60kg final, semifinals, bronze medal matches
  • July 25: Women's -52kg and men's -66kg final, semifinals, bronze medal matches
  • July 26: Women's -57kg and men's -73kg final, semifinals, bronze medal matches
  • July 27: Women's -63kg and men's -81kg final, semifinals, bronze medal matches
  • July 28: Women's -70kg and men's -90kg final, semifinals, bronze medal matches
  • July 29: Women's -78kg and men's -100kg final, semifinals, bronze medal matches
  • July 30: Women's +78kg and men's +100kg final, semifinals, bronze medal matches
  • July 31: Mixed team final, semifinals, bronze medal matches

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