The sport of judo is alive and well in the territory. This was evident at the Yukon Judo Championships at the Canada Games Centre on Saturday.
The championships had its largest turnout to date with 67 judokas competing – 21 more than last year and 28 more than in 2011.
“Numbers are higher, we have guest instructors, the enthusiasm is high again – I think we’re on the right track,” said Judo Yukon president Dan Poelman. “We’re starting to develop our athletes and our coaches.”
In addition to four Yukon clubs represented, the championships welcomed 15 Alaskans from the Juneau’s Capital City Judo Club and Anchorage’s Mountain View Judo.
RELATED:View full results here.
Perhaps most exciting was the inclusion of a former national champion.
Three-time national champion Bianca Ockedahl of Montreal came to Whitehorse to co-host a clinic with instructor Bruce Kamstra – another former Canadian champ – and ended up competing in and winning the senior women open division.
“I thought it would be neat to find out what judo’s like up here because we never really hear about up north, so I thought it would be interesting,” said Ockedahl.
“It was fun. The kids have good spirit, they are eager to compete, they are very enthusiastic – good team spirit, good fair-play spirit.”
As the final judo event in the territory this season, the championships decided the final standings in the Judo Yukon Championships League Cup.
For the first time since the inter-club competition began in the 2010/2011 season, a club was a double-winner.
Whitehorse’s Shiroumakai Judo Club won the League Cup for collecting the most points during the season and also won the Best Performance Trophy for averaging the most points per competitor.
Whitehorse’s Northern Lights Judo Club placed second in both categories, Carcross’s Hiroushikai Judo Club placed third in both and Whitehorse’s Golden Horn Judo Club was fourth in each.
Shiroumakai won a total of 21 medals at the championships including seven gold and seven silver.
Jesse Collins, a white belt from the club, also snagged an award for sportsmanship.
“He’s very enthusiastic, always helps out,” said Poelman.
Scottie James, a yellow belt from Carcross’s Hiroshikai club, won an award for toughest male competitor. He also took gold in the boys under-11, over 45-kilograms division.
“He’s probably the smallest guy in his division in terms of physical size and also weight, and he had to fight those bigger guys,” said Poelman. “So he had to be tough.”
The championship marked the third consecutive year of being an international event with Alaskans attending. The 2011 championship was the first in about a decade and a half that Alaskans competed at.
“We’ve done a lot in the last three years trying to build a new relationship with them, so I think it’s worked well,” said Poelman.
Judo Yukon will also be sending athletes to the Alaska State Judo Championships in a couple weeks in Anchorage for a third straight year.
“When I was young there were always Canadian and American teams going back and forth. I don’t know why it stopped, but I’m glad it started back up,” said sensei Dee High of the Anchorage club.
The Yukon championships are at “a great venue and the folks run a really sharp tournament. It’s run really well,” he added. “It’s enjoyable; all the kids have fun. We look forward to coming every year.”
Kamstra, who is the B.C. provincial coach and the 1998 Canadian champion in the 60-kilogram class, was making his second visit to the championships.
He was impressed with what he saw.
“A lot of kids here show a lot of potential, they just have to stick with it for a long time and will get better every year,” said the fifth-degree black belt.
“We’re just looking to help improve judo any way we can. Whoever we can help, we’re happy to help.”