With the qualification events for Tokyo 2020 concluded and the final lists of athletes meticulously prepared by the International Judo Federation, Judo Canada recently made their six nominations to the Canadian Olympic Committee to represent Team Canada this summer. Although if it were not for the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent Olympic qualification period extended from two years to three years, Team Canada would certainly have had another familiar name added to the Tokyo 2020 roster. The name Kelita Stevens (nee Zupancic) has been synonymous with international success for Judo Ontario and Judo Canada for well over a decade. Competing in multiple sports as a youth, her incredible talent and work ethic was undeniable where at sixteen she declined offers from several US colleges to play NCAA Hockey, to instead pursue a career in Judo.
She ultimately felt that Judo would give her the best opportunity to achieve her personal goals and praises Judo Canada's program pathway in their encouragement of her to become her very best, while travelling the world competing for Canada, not only growing as a judoka but as a person.
Kelita career has been nothing short of stellar, becoming IJF World Ranked #1 in 2011, winning 25 IJF Tour medals, 15 International Open medals and 12 consecutive Pan American Championship medals, including four gold. Her most meaningful podium moment was winning the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto in front of all her family and friends and the amazing Ontario home crowd. Truly a day to remember!
One of Kelita’s proudest moments was qualifying for her first Olympic Games in London in 2012 at the age of 22. Impressively she then repeated that feat four years later to represent Team Canada at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, in Brazil.
In 2020, prior to the pandemic, Kelita was within the Olympic seeding position on the IJF world ranking list and was primed to deliver her best performance in Tokyo. However, with the extra year of qualification and the ongoing uncertainty Covid-19 created, Kelita, like several other athletes during this period, made the difficult decision to call time on her competitive career and move onto the next chapter in her life.
Despite the fact that she did not compete in an IJF qualifying event since February 2020, a total of SIXTEEN months, Kelita still made direct qualification quota for Tokyo 2020 ranked 20th in -70kg, which would have been her THIRD consecutive Olympic Games! This is a phenonemal achievement that truly highlights the incredible level of consistency she has delivered on the tatami, not only during the qualification period but throughout her athletic career.
Kelita credits judo with giving her a sense of purpose, helping her to heal, develop and overcome obstacles, not only on the tatami but also in her personal life and has given her an incredible judo family both at home and around the world. She now lives and works in the US where she is focusing on coaching and helping the next generation, particularly young women, attain their full potential in Judo.
Congratulations on a magnificent career Kelita! You have continually represented Ontario and Canada with great distinction and professionalism and have been an incredible role model for countless judoka. We wish you the greatest of success in your next steps in life.