For one of Canada's most promising judokas, the London Olympics has ended after just one match.
Montreal resident Sergio Pessoa called the result devastating as he was eliminated in his first match in the -60-kilogram weight class in London, a very tight contest with Kazahstan's Yerkebulan Kossayev that went into golden score and was then determined by the judges’ decision. They ultimately raised the blue flag in favour of Kossayev.
“It was such a tight match, and the first guy to make a mistake loses,” Pessoa said. “The minute I made a false attack and they gave me a penalty, that might have been it although I tried for a real push in the last minute to show the judges I deserved a win. I thought he should have had a penalty earlier in the match, but the referees didn’t award him one. It was really close, and it could have gone either way.”
Pessoa wasn’t a favourite for the podium, but going in, he and coaches felt he had a shot. He was the first Canadian judoka to hit the mats in London, and his teammates were watching. No Canadian judo player has won an Olympic medal since the nation’s most decorated judoka -- Nicolas Gill -- earned silver in Sydney in 2000, eight years after taking bronze in Barcelona.
Pessoa, 24, was following in his father's footsteps, an Olympian for Brazil in the same weight class at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
“I’m really, really sad it turned out this way,” said Pessoa. “I really wanted to continue forward in the competition and was confident I could have. I wanted to get to the medal round, but sometimes you just don’t get the win.”
Pessoa had to describe his devastation in three different languages, as Portuguese-speaking reporters from Brazil were just as interested in him as those from French and English Canada, intrigued by the experience shared by father and son.
Pessoa Sr. is an assistant coach of the team under Gill, and was the one on the floor with his son. His father felt the judoka had been a little too conservative in the match, particularly in the golden score period, when a judoka must make extra efforts to show the judges he is the better competitor.
“When you don’t take a chance, you are stuck with the referee’s decision, and that can go either way,” said Pessoa Sr, who placed 9th in his own Olympic appearance in 1988. “He seemed a little more passive in this tournament because the level is so high, and he wasn’t as true to his usual fighting identity.”
Father and son stood pacing together in the athlete’s waiting area before the match, the young judoka visualizing what it would feel like to walk in before the crowd. They felt he had a good chance against Kossayev, who was ranked 13th in the International Judo Federation’s Olympic rankings, while Pessoa was No. 15.
“Maybe he was a little better than me, maybe he had a little edge,” said Pessoa. “But I thought that I fought really well and it could have gone either way.”
Immediately after the match, father and son walked off together and took a long moment away before facing the media.
“I told him he will have many more opportunities and it’s not his last Olympics,” said Pessoa Sr. speaking in French through and interpreter. “It’s been a very special for him and for me as his father, and I’m very proud of him.”
Pessoa said he will stay at the Games to support his teammates and then take a very short break, but he is determined to get back to training. Without hesitation, he said he wants to be at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
“I was so ready for the moment, I didn’t let my emotions take me over,” said Pessoa. “It’s really devastating, but I’m keeping my head high. For the next Olympics, I will be better, and I hope to win a medal next time.