The Abu Dhabi World Championships 2024 saw an epic and honourable race come to an end, one that the judo family has been following closely.

In 2021 Jessica Klimkait represented Canada at the Olympic Games, -57kg; Christa Deguchi was not selected. The two had campaigned and medalled all over the world but only one could fly the Olympic flag. Jessica won a bronze medal.

Olympic bronze medallist, Tokyo, 2021.

From the beginning of the Paris qualification period in 2022, this race has resumed with both athletes seeking the -57kg nomination for this summer’s Olympic Games. Ranked numbers 1 and 2 in the world, Christa and Jessica have had a phenomenal two years but with immense results for both throughout, it all came down to this month’s world championships and Christa stayed ahead winning silver while Jessica lost her semi-final and went on to win bronze, in itself an incredible feat of resilience and professionalism.

Jessica Klimkait fighting for world bronze. Photo courtesy of Tom Taylor / Judo Canada.

The Olympic Ranking List is not finalised but the judo Canada -57 kg nomination is and, this time, it’s Christa. Jessica Klimkait’s response has been published on social networks and it is astounding while also being emotional.

Jessica Klimkait with Canadian coach Janusz Pawlowski after Jessica's bronze medal contest.

“Last week marked the end of my race to Paris 2024. I will finish ranked second in the world, but I will not participate in these Olympic Games due to the one per nation per category rule.

For over two years it felt like I have been holding my breath in anticipation of whether or not I will go to these Olympic Games. From the moment I made the decision to pursue Paris 2024, I was bound to the promise I made to myself that, regardless of what happens, I need to feel as though I gave everything I had in order to try to go. I knew that the only thing that could hurt more than not going, was living with the feelings of regret and what ifs.

Every day the idea of Paris 2024 hung over me. It nagged me to train harder, to do more, to reach higher. Sometimes I would resent the standard I held for myself. I felt trapped by my own commitment and goals and nothing could have prepared me for the price I was going to pay mentally and physically.

I have managed to place at every single competition I participated in during this race: 11 grand slam medals, 3 world championship medals and 1 World Judo Masters gold medal. With every result I felt closer but also more and more consumed by the idea of doing so much and the possibility of not reaching my goal.

During the (2024) World Championships, I saw my dream vanish right in front of me. It was a whirlwind of emotions, a messy mix of sadness, anger, heartbreak, relief and resentment. As soon as I lost my semi-final, I knew I needed to win that bronze medal. I needed it to soften the blow of losing my spot for the Olympics and to make myself proud to continue to fight until the very end.

Fighting to the very end. Photo courtesy of Tom Taylor / Judo Canada.

As the days go by, I am gaining more and more perspective. I would go back and do everything all over again just to feel as close as I felt to reaching my goal. I have peace in knowing I truly gave everything that I had, that there was nothing more I could have asked of myself. Running towards a goal that is uncertain feels a lot like you're jumping without knowing the landing. It feels unsettling and scary but I am glad that I took the risk. As time passes I am being kind to myself and learning to be proud of everything that I’ve done.

I hope that my experience encourages athletes to reach as high as they can. I hope that they see that there can still be dignity in failure and that the result doesn't always define the athlete. That the way the failures are handled is what defines you.”

Photo courtesy of Tom Taylor / Judo Canada.

This level of elegance should be a lesson to all.

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