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After a strong start, Saunders’ momentum hits the mat … hard

On Tuesday, Yukon judo competitor Justin Saunders started strong, throwing Newfoundland’s Ethan Lannon to the mat for his first match win of…

On Tuesday, Yukon judo competitor Justin Saunders started strong, throwing Newfoundland’s Ethan Lannon to the mat for his first match win of the tournament.

After going scoreless for the full four minutes, the fighters went into what is known as the golden score, where any point will end the match.

“We were pretty tired and I threw for the ippon — so that was good,” said Saunders after the tournament, referring to his clean and effective throw, which is given a full score by judges.

It was a good win.

And his last.

After that success, Saunders struggled with his next two matches, losing both and ending his podium run early.

“It was just tough competitors, and they fought harder than I did and nerves got the best of me today,” he said.

His second match against New Brunswick’s Rene-Pierre Bosse ended surprisingly when he was thrown for ippon.

“I was bending down, and he got the tomayagi (belly throw) on me — I could’ve fought that better,” he said.

Bosse would go on to win bronze in the 73-kilogram division.

Saunders’ third and final match of the day, against BC’s Scott McGrandle, was a long and grueling affair, with both athletes struggling on the mat for nearly the full four minutes.

McGrandle chipped away at Saunders, and would also finish the tournament tied for bronze.

“I saw stars a couple of times,” said Saunders, suggesting he hit the mat “pretty hard.”

“Justin had a tough competitor,” said Yukon judo coach Penny Prysnuk. “Scott got a waza-ari, or half-point, for a throw and another waza-ari for a hold down, which was enough to end it.”

Saunders, a veteran of the 2003 Games, recently returned to the sport, and his mixed results conjured mixed emotions.

“I’m feeling half and half — I thought I fought alright, but I made a couple of mistakes, so I’m kinda disappointed, but kinda glad also.”

He left the sport not long after the New Brunswick Games, and picked it up again six months ago.

In that brief period, he’s had some success at BC tournaments in Steveston and Burnaby.

He missed a chance to fight Scott McGrandle at the Steveston tournament —McGrandle had a cold.

“That would have been really helpful to fight him there — just to get an idea of his strength and what he likes to do,” said Saunders.

Saunders called it right after he was eliminated, predicting that three-time national champ Corey Paquette of Quebec would take the gold in the 73-kilogram division.

“I’ve got the team competition, and I’ll shoot for nationals now, I guess,” said Saunders.

The rest of Yukon’s judo athletes (Montana and Delaney Prysnuk, Gillian Farnell, Amber Saunders and Kyle Vibe) hit the mat today.

Three of the girls have been to junior nationals for the last three years.

“The girls have done well, and have been to lots of tournaments over the years,” said coach Penny Prysnuk. “They’ll be fighting some of the same people they’ve fought before and have been to training camps with.”

Montana Prysnuk is definitely a medal threat, finishing third at junior nationals two years ago.

Individual competition wraps up today and the team competitions run Friday at the Canada Games Centre.