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Grading Canada's Combat Performance at Olympic Games

Collin Van Ooyen / August 13, 2012 - 5:30pm

With 18 medals at the 2012 Olympics, Canada had one of its highest medal totals at a summer Games, tying their result from 2008. Of those 18 medals, three came from our combat competitors, also matching 2008’s total. Not a bad showing, but there was a ton of controversy and heartbreak along the way that made it a bittersweet affair for Canadian fans. Some wonder what could have been, others revel in what was accomplished. Let’s break down the results for each of Canada’s combat sports and grade just how well our combat athletes really did in London.

Boxing

Canada has not medalled in boxing since 1996, and over that time the program has deteriorated. Canada sent 11 boxers to Atlanta for the 1996 Games, but by 2008 that number was down to only one (that boxer was also dominated in his only round of competition at those Games.)

2012 marked the beginning of the rebuilding process, with Canada sending three boxers to London, including Mary Spencer, Canada’s first ever female boxing representative. Spencer was one of the favorites in her weight class, but was beaten convincingly in her opening bout.

On the men’s side, Simon Kean and Custio Clayton both raised eyebrows with opening round upsets. Kean was quickly ousted in the next round, but Clayton was able to get within one round of a medal matchup before a controversial decision against Great Britain’s Freddie Evans ended his Cinderella run. The decision was appealed by Boxing Canada, but that appeal was ultimately denied.

The 2012 Games did not play out like Canada had hoped in the boxing competition, but progress, regardless of how little, was made. Custio Clayton provided hope for the program, but also represents the biggest threat to plague it over the last dozen or so years. Clayton may go pro after these Games, removing himself from the international picture for Canada, and forcing the program to develop a new contender. Unless Boxing Canada can manage to get young boxers to commit for more than a single Olympic cycle, they are likely doomed to a state of perpetual mediocrity. Mary Spencer’s poor showing was also a painful blow to a program that had invested thousands into her development.

Final grade: D+

Judo

Judo proved to be one of Canada’s bright spots at these Games, with Antoine Valois-Fortier surprising the world and bringing home a bronze medal. Valois-Fortier was ranked 21st in the world coming into London, and scored Canada’s first judo medal since 2000. Also encouraging is the number of judokas Canada sent to these Olympics. In 2004 Canada sent only two judokas, in 2008 that number grew to five, and it grew again to eight in 2012. Those numbers, along with Valois-Fortier’s surprise medal, are trends of positive growth.

Other Canadian performances weren’t quite as encouraging. Several judokas showed promise coming into the Games, but failed to execute. Sergio Pessoa falls into this category, as the top-14-ranked competitor dropped his opening match on a single defensive posture penalty. Nicholas Tritton, ranked in the world top 10, also disappointed in his opening match, incurring a pair of penalties that ultimately did him in. All three of Canada’s female judokas were also ousted in their tournament openers.

From a team perspective, 2012 was not a friendly year to Canadian judo. There were just too many letdowns from ranked competitors to mark these Games as a total success. The bronze medal from Valois-Fortier is what really saved this squad from being a total failure, and it’s an accomplishment that should be celebrated. The indication of growth is encouraging for the 2016 edition of the team.

Final grade: C

Taekwondo

Canada took a bit of a step backwards in taekwondo at this year’s Games, with all three competitors failing to medal. Canada also sent three competitors to the 2008 Games, and only two in 2004.

Second seeded Karine Sergerie, the reigning silver medalist from 2008, was Canada’s best hope at a medal in this event. Franka Anic of Slovakia unfortunately ousted Sergerie in the quarterfinals in a match that saw Sergerie get doubled up on points 10-5.

Canada’s two male competitors didn’t fare any better. Antoine Coulombe-Fortier was beaten handily 11-6 in the quarterfinals, and his training partner Sebastien Michaud was doubled up 8-4 in his preliminary bout.

Canada has only won two taekwondo medals since the sport was introduced to the Olympics in 2000, and London 2012 didn’t do much to change that discussion. Canada fielded the same amount of competitors as they did in 2008, this time with poorer results. At 27 years old, it’s still uncertain how Karine Sergerie will fit into the picture for Canada’s 2016 team, especially after this year’s dismal performance.

Final grade: F

Freestyle Wrestling

Freestyle wrestling is one event where Canada has traditionally had some success. After qualifying seven wrestlers for the 2004 Games, and 10 in 2008, Canada took a small step backwards in qualifying only nine wrestlers in 2012. It isn’t a huge setback, but it isn’t the kind of positive growth we had hoped to see after bringing home a wrestling gold in Beijing. Two reigning medalists from that 2008 squad were able to find their respective ways back to the podium, but the rest of the team failed to make progress.

Canadian wrestling great Tonya Verbeek, competing in the final wrestling tournament of her career, finished with a silver medal after wrestling a mostly dominant tournament. Verbeek was strong throughout the competition until falling to her old nemesis, the legendary Saori Yoshida of Japan, in the final. Verbeek has now medalled in three straight Olympics.

Reigning 48 kg gold medalist Carol Huynh also found her way back to the podium, this time scoring a bronze. Huynh lost a tightly contested semifinal match against eventual gold medalist Hitori Obara, which sent her to the bronze medal repechage round.

None of Canada’s five male wrestlers were able to make it farther than the quarterfinals.

Canada didn’t make any significant progress with their wrestling program at these Games, but they did still show the world that they’re a relevant force. They scored two pieces of hardware, just as they did in 2008, with one upgraded (Verbeek), and one downgraded (Huynh), so the medal count is basically a push. It was a good showing, but not great.

Final grade: C+

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