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Nicolas Gill positive about Panam Championships in Canada

23 Apr 2015 21:25

 Edmonton Sun    Christian Fidler
Nicolas Gill (2)

One for the Panam Championships and one day for his 43rd birthday Nicolas Gill's team Canada is in a good shape. Gill reached heights in his sport that no one from Canada had seen. Olympian four times. Medalist twice. Opening ceremonies flag-bearer in 2004. So when Nicolas Gill says that Canadian judo is the best it’s been in a long time, those words carry a lot of weight.

Male and female competitors in 26 weight classes will participate in the tournament, which serves as one of the qualifiers for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio. 

“This is a very important even for our athletes,” said Gill, who now serves as High Performance Director and National Head Coach of Judo Canada. “This is probably the most important qualifier of the year going into Rio.

“We’ve got a second year (of three) of qualification, so I would say there are three groups of athletes going in: One group, it’s do or die – if they don’t make it here, they’re pretty much done. We have a group in a such a good position that they (won’t) suffer too much if they don’t do too well. And then you have a group that’s on the line.

So my goal is that we have as many people still in the running after this event. But for some athletes it’s a do-or-die event.”

Eighteen Canadians will compete over the three days, up to a dozen of whom Gill believes could get on the podium in Edmonton. Ultimately, Gill hopes to qualify six to eight athletes for the Rio Games.

“That’s our goal,” said Gill, noting Canada had eight judo competitors at the 2012 Summer Olympics. “This year with a few injuries it will be hard to get to eight. It’s a possibility, but that will be hard. Six or seven is a safe bet that we qualify.

Among the home athletes Gill says to watch for this weekend are Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard (the only Canadian to twice medal at the world junior championships), Patrick Gagne (Pan-Am silver medalist two years ago), Kyle Reyes (2013 world junior champ in 100kg) and Kelita Zupancic (2012 Olympian).

“I think right now we have a very good group at every age group,” said Gill, rattling off a laundry list of accomplishments by Canadian judoka that includes a pair of gold medals at the last cadet world championships, and three top-seven finishes at the most recent senior world championship. “Really I think the program is at its best in a long, long time.

“It’s a constant battle, you need good funding, good support, good stuff. We have a new training centre in Montreal, it’s another step forward, but it’s a continued battle,” added Gill, who won Olympic bronze in Barcelona in 1992 and silver eight years later in Sydney.

“Everybody’s trying to improve, everybody’s trying to get better and you have to do the same, as athlete or as a coach, you’ve got to try to improve the system and the structure and just keep working towards constant improvement.”

Twenty-five countries will be represented at these Pan-Am championships, and the field includes over half a dozen athletes that have either won an Olympic or world title.

“This judo is Olympic-level judo and if you want to watch a sport without having to go to your TV, if you want to come live and see some activity, then it’s absolutely the best opportunity,” local organizer Mark Hicks said.

“It’s a nice venue, great sitelines on every corner, and all (entrants) are competing for a chance to go to the Olympics ... that is an opportunity they don’t want to give up and they will do anything they can to get that opportunity.”

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  • Nicolas Gill (CAN) - Grand Slam Paris (2013, FRA) - © Christian Fidler
  • Nicolas Gill (CAN) - Olympic Games London (2012, GBR) - © Mario Krvavac
  • Antoine Valois-Fortier (CAN), Nicolas Gill (CAN) - Olympic Games London (2012, GBR) - © IJF Media Team, International Judo Federation

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