Upsetting a world champion and 2008 Olympic silver medalist proved too gruelling a hill to climb for Canadian judoka Kelita Zupancic at the London Olympics.
On Wednesday, the 22-year-old from Whitby, Ont. was eliminated in the first match of her Olympic debut by Lucie Decosse of France, one of the heavy favourites for gold in the under-70-kilogram category. Zupancic was efficient with her gripping to hold off the veteran fighter until just 29 seconds left in the match, but then Decosse won by ippon.
“Tough draw, but I came here to fight the best, and she is the best, so that’s the Olympics” said an emotional Zupancic. “It’s experience, she’s been around a long time, and she knows what she’s doing. My game-plan was to frustrate her, and I did, but she’s 30 and I’m only 22.”
As an unseeded player coming into the Olympics, Zupancic was part of the random draw to determine her opponent. It was a stroke of tough luck to draw Decosse, a three-time world champion who is competing in her third Olympics.
“Betting against Decosse is the worst bet at these Games,” said Canadian coach Nicolas Gill.
The coach said he has great hope that Zupancic could be part of the next wave of elite females in the next few years.
“Two years ago, she was a kid just starting on the senior tour, and now she just kept the match tight with the best girl in the world for four and a half minutes,” said Gill. “The next four years is when all her learning will go into application, and all the older girls will be gone from the sport. If she goes into Rio as a seeded player, she will have her chance.”
The Canadians were trying to feed off the inspiration of friend and teammate Antoine Valois-Fortier, the judo player who earned a surprise bronze on Tuesday in the under-81 kilogram class.
“Antoine opened the flood gates and showed our team it was possible,” said Zupancic. “He gave us hope.”
Alexandre Emond of Laval, Que. was also eliminated in his first-round match in the under-90-kilogram weight class earlier on Wednesday by Great Britain’s Gordon Winston. The Brit was supported by a boisterous home crowd and went for the ippon early, ending Emond’s day quickly.
“I certainly did not expect that, I never thought I wouldn’t win a match at all,” said Emond. “I was very inspired by Antoine and I tried to use that, but it just didn’t happen for me.”
Emond was finally at an Olympics after having narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2008 Games. He has been hampered a little by a shoulder injury. The judoka said he doesn’t know what his future holds but he is almost certainly headed for shoulder surgery.
Canada has one more judoka in the Olympic competition. Amy Cotton, a 32-year-old player from Antigonish, Nova Scotia fights on Thursday in the women’s -under-78-kilogram category. Her first match is against Audrey Tcheumeo, also of France.