We’ve seen two dynamic sides of Antoine - formidable on the Judo mat, while young and sprightly off the mat. This describes the first impression of a 22 year-old Antoine Valois-Fortier, the Olympic bronze medalist in the men's 81kg judo at the London 2012 Olympic Games. He is the top Judo player in Canada and ranks #11 in the world in his weight class (As of October 2012). We met him at the Ajax Community Centre where many young athletes were overflowing with exhilaration and excitement to meet Antoine.
You’ve been to many different competitions, but what was it like to compete in the London Olympics?
The Olympics only happens once every four years, which makes it very special. And there is a media aspect: there is more media than any other competition. Other competitions are all qualifiers for the Olympics, so it’s like the final exam. Lastly, the crowd is huge and the ambience in the stadium is exhilarating. I feel the history is being made, as I know the results would follow me for the rest of my life.
Your first match in London was to fight Elnur Mammadli, Olympic Gold medalist in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning over Korean Judo star, Wang Ki-chun. If you lose, you are eliminated. How did you feel before going into that match?
The first day in the Olympics, I didn’t compete but instead went to watch my fellow team member’s compete. Sergio Pessoa, Canada’s -60kg competitor, was playing. In my opinion, he is the best Judo player in the country, but he lost in the first round. When I was in the warm-up area, I saw world champions who were coming out from competitions crying, but not for the right reasons. Ninety percent of people, when they come out of the mat, do not achieve nor realize their dreams. They didn’t win a medal. There were a lot of things they didn’t expect to happen. I fought as hard as I can. I think I was able to stay in the present moment, always focused.
Preparing for the Olympics requires countless days of intense training, and Judo athletes are notorious with injuries. How did you overcome all of that?
First of all, you have to love what you do. I have absolute passion for what I do. The feeling of winning, succeeding when I am on the Judo mat, and proving to myself that I am the champion is what really keeps me going and enables me to overcome intense training and injuries.
But how do you deal with losing competitions and getting injured?
In going through those stages, you have to learn from the experience in losing and getting injuries. You have to learn something when you lose: if you just lose to lose, it’s pointless. You have to ask why you lost. Same with injuries; I once hurt my back and was put out of Judo for one year in 2009. That injury taught me a lot. I train a lot smarter now, my conditioning program is a lot different and I make sure I don’t get injured. I learn from my experiences, and those experiences make me stronger in the end.
Many young people often give up after experiencing failures in areas such as school, career, relationship, etc. What could you share with them?
You have to keep in mind that your life experiences should be like marathons, not sprints. No matter what the domain is, it ends up paying in the end if you persist. Even the greatest people try to comeback as fast as possible from their failures and move on. Challenges are part of having big goals and it is not always easy to overcome them.
We believe in achieving that objective, but do we need help from other people?
Yes, the people you surround yourself with are very important. Surrounding yourself with different people influences a lot whether they help you to succeed or not.
One person I look up to a lot is Georges St. Pierre, a UFC Champion. He is one of my favorite athletes and I got to meet him. Very nice guy. When he talked to me about his success, he said in the MMA world, it requires a lot of discipline and he was able to get the best team for his Ju-jitsu, conditioning, boxing and weight training program. He was able to surround himself with the best in every domain, which helped making him the champion.
What are the differences between someone who achieves at the top level and who doesn’t?
My coach, Nicholas Gill who won the silver medal in Judo in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, told me to ask myself at the end of each practice, “Have I improved today? If not, what can I do tomorrow to improve?” This is the question I don’t think most people ask themselves every day. Seeing where you are, questioning all the time when you do something, and then doing it as hard as you can. Many people are motivated by their surroundings, but you see how hard you work when you’re by yourself for example at the gym. You’re not working hard to show off to others, but to benefit yourself.
You’ve been practicing Judo since you were 4-years old. What other career paths would you have chosen if not Judo?
I played a lot of basketball, so maybe basketball? I guess if I did less Judo, I would’ve done more school and focus on different careers in school.
What’s going to happen in the future? What’s your long-term goal?
I’m studying Physical Education at University. I’d like to work in a school environment to promote healthy lifestyles. Also, I’d like to work with the National Judo team as well. Judo is a passion for me.
What’s your short term goal? Is the next Olympics one of your goals?
Definitely. What happened in London gave me the motivation. Now, I know I am able to perform at this stage and know what it takes to win at the Olympics, I want to be in the finals and hopefully win gold. Everything I do now is all in preparation for the final match in four years.
Who’s your role model?
My father has his own company and had to work very hard to make it happen. And my coach Nicolas Gill is someone who helped me a lot to reach my goal. They had a huge impact on me.
How do you see Korean athletes?
Korean athletes are STRONG. I can tell you that. The Male team is unbelievable. Not only do they train very hard, they train very smart. Some people do a lot of volume of training and do it until they literally pass out. Other people practice only one hour but the intensity is ridiculous. Koreans are able to find the perfect balance. They have technical and weight training that is very calculated. The entire team is in the top 8 in the world. Their structure is absolutely phenomenal.
About Antoine Valois-Fortier (from Judo Canada)
Antoine started practising judo at the age of 4. His parents thought it could help manage his high level of energy. His rapid success and the pleasure he was having fighting, soon made him a fan of the sport. At the age of 15, after a few national and international events, Antoine began to believe that he could go the Olympics. He points to his father as the main figure of influence in his life, thanking his advices in his career and his life in general. In the sport of judo, he claims that Nicolas Gill has been his role model. When not busy training, Antoine spend time studying to complete his CEGEP in human science. Occasionally, he also likes to spend time with his friends, going to the cinema or playing basketball.
Interview Date: October 27, 2012
Interviewers: Jooseok Lee, Solbi Hong
Editors: James Choi
The views expressed in the interviews are not necessarily reflective of JoinTheLeaders's opinion
* All pictures were provided and approved by Antoine