Mark Berger is officially the teacher... but really, the teacher is the subject: judo.
“It teaches them respect... respect for opponents, respect for rules, respect for themselves,” says the Ukraine-born black belt from Winnipeg. Berger captured one of few Olympic medals in the sport for Canada, a 1984 heavyweight bronze.
He also won a 1983 gold in Pan American Games, twice was gold medalist at the Maccabiah Games (1981 and 1985), took five national titles and a silver at the 1985 Pan American championships.
Berger, who was in Ontario for the province’s open championship on the weekend, is one of the sport’s wise men in Canada, along with Montreal’s Nicolas Gill, who won Olympic silver in 2000 and bronze in 1991 and Doug Rogers, who won Olympic silver in 1964.
“If I could pull the Olympic team aside for a moment and give them one strong lesson, I'd tell them to stay focussed,” said Berger.
“Exactly because it's the Olympics, we get more attention than professional athletes. There’s lots of media, lots of spectators. It’s a different environment from any other tournament you’ve been in.”
Success for the Canadian judokas isn’t a new experience, This past weekend they earned three gold medals and a silver when five Canadian fighters went to judo’s tatami mats in European Cup action in Orenburg, Russia.
Sunday, Canadians Amy Cotton (-78 kg) of Antigonish, N.S., defeated three opponents; Kelita Zupancic (-70 kg) of Whitby, Ont., won all three of her bouts, and Antoine Valois-Fortier (-81 kg) of Vanier, Que., won all five of his matches. Saturday, Sergio Pessoa Jr., of St. Leonard, Que., , coming back from a serious knee injury, won a silver medal in his under-60 kg class.
Alexandre Émond (-90 kg) of Laval, Que., was placed ninth after withdrawing due to a injury. He’d won two of his three bouts to that point.
Pessoa, son of Brazilian native and coach/mentor Sergio Pessoa Sr., won his first three bouts before falling in the gold medal match -- partly because he lost focus over a questionable call.
Things did not go as planned in the final, where he was upset by Russian Dmitriy Kulikov.
“I threw the guy down for an ippon at two minutes, it was as clear as day. But the referee didn’t give me full points. The refereeing was ridiculous. Everyone there saw that it was an ippon, the guy clearly fell on his back.”
The move was judged a waza-ari, however, and instead of the match ending on Pessoa’s throw, the Russian took over from then on.
“They have to stay focussed on performance, not on the Olympic experience,” Berger said. “Sometimes, it doesn’t go your way, but you can’t change something that won’t change. If you can’t change it, don’t worry about it.”
Pessoa was satisfied and disappointed at the same time. “I did a good job of managing my three first bouts. Unfortunately I couldn’t do the same in the final,” he said. “Still, what’s important is to put together good bouts, and I did just that. Whatever happens before the London Games doesn’t matter that much. In the end, it’s all about the Olympics.”
Sasha Mehmedovic, who injured his right elbow at the Pan-American Championships, decided not take part in the competition.
At Saturday’s San Salvador World Cup, Canada’s developing talent took home six medals. Alix Renaud-Roy of Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies, Que., enjoyed her best performance in a World Cup, winning silver in the women’s under-70 kg division. She beat fighters from Guatemala and El Salvador en route to the grand finale where she fell to an ippon by Austrian Bernadette Graf.
Sarah-Myriam Mazouz took bronze in the same category. She lost her first bout against Graf, then strung together ippons against a pair of Salvadorians to mount the podium via repechage
On the men’s side, Guillaume Perrault won silver in the under-90 kg division – including a win over fellow Canadian judoka Emin Sheykhislyamov, who along with brother Dilyaver Sheykhislyamov took bronze (both had a record of one win and one defeat at under-90 kg).
In the under-81 kg division, Scott McGrandle also came away with a bronze medal.
“It’s much easier to get into international tournaments today, but there’s much more travel -- and you have to go to lots of tournaments to qualify,” said Berger. “It’s never easy to qualify, that’s why we never have a full team.”
Ryan Cochrane of Windsor, N.S., and Hughes Fournel of Dorval, Que., boosted their sprint hopes for the Olympics with a bronze World Cup medal in 200-metre kayak doubles (K-2 200) at the opening canoe and kayak World Cup at Poznan, Poland.
The K-2 200 is one of 12 races on the Olympic program, Arnaud Hybois and Sebastien Jouve of France won in 33.432 seconds, less than a half-second in front of Cochrane and Fournel, who took their first international medal for the Canada. They could seal the Olympic nomination at next week’s World Cup.