Whitby's Kelita Zupancic loses by ippon in Olympic judo debut

Wednesday August 1st, 2012

 

Promising athlete already looking ahead to Rio 2016 Games

Brian McNair/ Metroland

Cheering For Kelita

LONDON, ENGLAND -- Kelita Zupancic's parents Ed and Annette Zupancic and best friend Alexus Breau outside the judo venue at ExCeL. August 1, 2012.

The harsh reality of judo is that four years of preparation can, and often is, wiped out with the blink of an eye.

That was the case for promising 22-year-old Kelita Zupancic, of Whitby, whose Olympic debut lasted just four-and-a-half minutes Wednesday morning at the ExCeL centre, as she fell by an ippon to the world's top-ranked under-70kg competitor, 30-year-old Lucie Decosse of France, who went on to win the gold.

Zupancic held the match scoreless with a defensive, gripping style, but wore down as the time ticked away, and Decosse pounced at the right moment to throw her for the winning score.

"I did the best I could, that's all I could do," said Zupancic, calm but with the hint of tears in her eyes. "Obviously it's a rough draw, but I came here to fight the best and she's the best. This is the Olympics.

"I was in there for quite a long time," she pointed out. "It's experience. She's been around for awhile."

With 22 competitors in the weight class, 12 had to compete in an elimination round of 32, but Decosse and Zupancic were among the 10 who drew byes into the round of 16.

But entering the competition unseeded, Zupancic also faced the bad luck part of the draw by getting Decosse right off the bat.

"This is the problem when you're coming in not seeded," said Zupancic's coach, four-time Olympian Nicolas Gill. "Decosse has barely lost two, three matches in the last eight years. She's the best woman out there right now."

Zupancic had several supporters among the boisterous crowd cheering her on, including her parents Ed and Annette, aunt and uncle Kyla and Nelson Lang, former coach Charlie Formosa from Oshawa and best friend Alexus Breau, who came from Florida.

Before entering the arena, it was her father, a former national judo champ himself, who was a nervous wreck, while mom was calm as a cucumber, a trait apparently passed down to her daughter.

"Good, perfect. I'm ready just like her," said mom. "We were working on the calmness together, the preparation together, so it's kind of reflected in both of us. It's been great."

Dad, apparently, was not invited to those sessions.

"My insides are coming out and my outsides are going in," he said. "I fought for her a couple of times last night in my dreams."

Zupancic, who has been focused on the Olympics since she watched Gill win a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Games, hopes now to build on the experience of London and at the very least compete again four years down the road in Rio.

"This journey has been far from easy and I've learned so much, especially within this last month, last week of preparing, being in the Olympic Village, seeing other athletes, and seeing the victories and losses," she said. "There's so much to take away from this experience."

Presuming the work ethic remains the same, and there's no reason to doubt it will, Gill said that Brazil could well be her moment to shine.

"Two years ago, she was just a young kid starting on the senior tour and now she keeps her match tied with the best girl in the world for four minutes and a half," he pointed out. "If she puts the same effort in the next four years as she did in the last four years, then she'll go in as a seeded player in Rio and have her chance."

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