Jessica Klimkait can proudly claim to be a trailblazer in the world of Canadian women’s sports.
The 26-year-old from Whitby, Ont., made Canadian judo history in Tokyo when she became the first woman to earn an Olympic medal representing Canada in July 2021.
“That’s been a goal and dream of mine, not only to attend the Olympic Games, but to be on the podium. Obviously, the highest step on the podium would have been preferred,” she said at the time to CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux.
“I still wanted to feel that pride, even if it wasn’t gold.”
Klimkait, who started in the sport at four years old, was disappointed to lose in the semifinal to Sarah Léonie Cysique of France as the top-ranked judoka in her weight class.
“I came here with gold in mind. That was the goal for me,” Klimkait said. “At the end of the day, I’m just happy I was able to collect myself after that loss and come away with a medal.”
WATCH l Klimkait became the 1st Canadian woman to earn an Olympic medal in judo:
Featured VideoKlimkait’s bronze medal win in Tokyo made her the first Canadian woman to earn an Olympic medal in judo, and has inspired her to become a role model for others.
Just a month before the Games, the Canadian struck gold in the world championships in Budapest. It was just the second time a Canadian judoka had claimed a world title, following Christa Deguchi in the same weight class in 2019 in Tokyo.
Klimkait never left the podium in the competition since, earning back-to-back bronze medals in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 2022, and in Doha, Qatar, in May 2023.
“Bronze was not what I hoped or trained for, but I’m proud to have kept my focus after my loss to make sure I stood on the podium at the end of the day,” Klimkait reflected about this year’s edition in an Instagram post.
“Sometimes your losses give you the opportunity to learn the most about yourself. My goal remains the same, and I’ll continue to move forward and keep working hard.”
The results let the world know Klimkait stays among the sport’s best.
To the Canadian herself, it also serves as motivation to keep improving as she tries to clinch a berth to represent Canada in next year’s Paris Olympics.
“One of Jessica’s strengths is that she’s always looking for ways to improve, and she already had a few solutions in mind [after her quarterfinal loss] for her upcoming fights,” said Antoine Valois-Fortier, Judo Canada national coach, in a Judo Canada press release.
“Although I came here wanting more, I’m glad to know that I’m consistent from year to year,” Klimkait added.
Klimkait also boasts an impressive record at the International Judo Federation’s Grand Slam, having collected six gold, four silver and five bronze medals since her debut in 2017.
Securing an Olympic berth would be a no-brainer for both Klimkait and Deguchi, a Japanese-born 27-year-old, since the Canadian teammates are among the elite in the women’s -57kg.
There is a limit of a single judoka per division per nation, however, meaning only one of them will pack their bags and fly to the French capital — depriving Canada of a clear medal contender.
Klimkait’s world title right before the Tokyo Olympics propelled her to the Games, as Deguchi lost in a semifinal to Momo Tamaoki of Japan, whom Klimkait had edged in the final for gold.
Judo Canada had decided that whoever finished higher in the competition would automatically receive the Canadian berth for Tokyo.
It’s their discretion to determine a criteria to settle the matter, including organizing a one-off event to determine who will represent the Maple Leaf on the Olympic stage next.
In 2023 in Doha, Deguchi struck gold in the worlds while Klimkait earned bronze. The 2024 edition will take place before the Paris Olympics.