Judo

Canada's Klimkait on the challenge of overcoming Christa Deguchi to fulfil her aim of an Olympic spot

The world number 1 in the -57kg class is fighting for a spot in Tokyo against fellow Canadian and world champion Christa Deguchi.

By Alessandro Poggi ·

Jessica Klimkait and Christa Deguchi are respectively number 1 and number 2 in the judo world rankings, but only one will represent Canada at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

Klimkait swapped position with her teammate in the -57kg ranks after winning her third Grand Slam title in Budapest last October, when judo competitions resumed after a hiatus due to COVID-19.

"Getting that number one spot is just a sort of confirmation that I'm going in the right direction. And it's kind of a little bit of reward for my hard work. But it's nowhere near over," the 24-year-old Ontario native said in an interview with Tokyo2020.

"It's a really nice feeling, but there's still lots of things that have to be done in terms of results for me."

"I still want a world championship medal. I want to go to the Olympic Games. I want to get a medal there." - Jessica Klimkait

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An exciting fight-off

Both Klimkait and Deguchi have made history for Canadian judo.

Klimkait won the first age group world title for her country when, in 2013, she took gold in the cadet world championships in Miami, USA.

"That was probably the moment that I was like, 'It doesn't matter where I'm from, l can do things in this floor, this is really cool!", the current world number one said.

"And that sort of drove me and getting that result was sort of this fire that lit under me. It didn't matter who I fight or what it was like, I always expected so much from myself."

Japanese-born Deguchi, one year older than Klimkait, claimed Canada's first world title at senior level during the championships held in Tokyo at the iconic Nippon Budokan in 2019.

Given their close rankings, Judo Canada decided that a fight-off will assign the Olympic spot for the -57kg class.

But it won't be a winner-takes-all match, like the one Japan's Abe Hifumi and Maruyama Joshiro had in December.

A series of the best 2 out of 3 will take place instead and it won't happen before the end of May.

“Having just one match is a dangerous way to decide,” Judo Canada CEO Nicolas Gill told JudoInside. “You can always win one match by luck but to win two or three times, that’s a show of superiority.”

A rivarly for the Olympic spot

The two have already faced each other five times in the past, with Deguchi prevailing in each instance.

"At the beginning, when we first competed with each other the first couple of times, she was completely foreign to me, as I was to her. So you know, it was just about learning how she fights, how she feels," Klimkait said.

"Every single time I stepped on the mat with her, it was the same sort of process, just learning more and more and sort of chipping away at what can work for me against her."

Despite all the media hype, the 2017 Pan American champion plays down the rivarly with her teammate:

"If you asked the both of us two years ago, I don't think we would have said we would be in this position.

"So it's definitely put like a big spotlight on me against her."

"We're just pretty relatively normal girls in the same position, going for the same thing." - Jessica Klimkait on Christa Deguchi

"This is the road I want to take"

Klimkait is determined to pursue Olympic qualification in her own way.

When she was offered to move up weight classes, she decided to stick to her preferred category.

"I don't doubt that I could be a good -63kg player, I faced some of those girls and I know I'm like athletically pretty good and strong and my judo is very quick.

"I've put so much work every single day to just get to this number one spot, in order to be on that inner circle of top five in the world. I can't just move up to 63kg and have that luxury"

"I don't see myself going to the Olympics in 63 and watching the division that I want to be fighting at.

"Obviously the Olympics is the biggest goal of any athlete's life, but I have to be happy with myself during the journey."

"For me, my heart is in -57. It's the division I want to be in. And this is like the road and the path I want to take." - Jessica Klimkait