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Elmira judo practitioner has high expectations

When Philip Leeman competed in the Canadian National Judo Championships in Calgary earlier this month, the gym was attached to the Olympic oval where speed skating was held in 1988. It was the second Olympic venue he’d fought at in less than a year; the Quebec Open tournament last fall was held in the 1976 Montreal weightlifting venue.

JUST THE BEGINNING Philip Leeman, 13, returned home from the Canadian National Judo Championships in Calgary with a bronze medal and a white Stetson.
JUST THE BEGINNING Philip Leeman, 13, returned home from the Canadian National Judo Championships in Calgary with a bronze medal and a white Stetson.

The venues hold special significance for Leeman, who has his eye on competing in the 2016 Olympic Games.

In between now and then, Leeman wants to win the nationals, get his black belt, compete at the junior world championships, the junior Pan American games, then the worlds and the PanAm games. It’s a long list, but Leeman has a bit of time; the Elmira native is only 13.

Leeman thought he might be checking the first item – winning the nationals – off his list this year.

He’s the reigning provincial champion in the under-15, 66-kilo class, and he had defeated his closest competitor, Louis Krieber-Gagnon, twice at matches earlier in the year.

There’s no seeding in the U15 bracket, and Leeman ended up facing Krieber-Gagnon in his first match at nationals. After three minutes, neither one had scored a point, so the decision went to the referees. They decided in favour of Krieber-Gagnon.

“I felt I dominated my match, and the refs gave it to the other guy,” Leeman said.

He wasn’t the only one who thought he’d won the match; the other spectators and even the Quebec coaches were shocked at the decision. Leeman made quick work of his other opponents, but having lost the first match there was no chance for him to vie for the gold, and he came home with bronze.

At first disappointed and upset, Leeman has come to terms with the results and is proud that he achieved his goal of bringing home a medal.

Leeman has been training in judo since he was six years old. He saw martial arts on television and wanted to try it, so his mom signed him up for classes at the Kaizen Judo Club in Kitchener.

The word judo means the “gentle way,” although the term is relative. Judo focuses on throwing and grappling over kicks and strikes, but arm locks and choke holds are part of competition.

Leeman hit a growth spurt early on, and for a few years he towered over other judoka his age. His size and skill meant he was bumped up to adult classes, where he faced black belts, at age 10 or 11.

The young competitor has continued to outstrip his peers; he got his brown belt at age 12, where most judoka don’t get theirs until 14. Last year he was the provincial under-15 champion at age 12, and fought 13, 14, and 15-year-olds at the nationals.

It hasn’t come without a lot of hard work: Leeman practices four times a week and goes to the dojo another two days a week for weight training.

All that training for judo doesn’t leave a lot of time for other activities or hanging out with his friends. Leeman had to choose between focusing on judo or playing rep soccer because there wasn’t enough time to do both. He starts high school at EDSS this fall and he’s hoping to try out for the soccer team, but it depends how much time is left after judo and homework.
This is Leeman’s last year fighting in the under-15 class; he turns 14 next month, so next year he will compete in the U17 category.

Right now he’s taking a break from training after the intensity of preparing for nationals but he’ll be back at it soon. The Quebec Open is in October, and it’s the first big tournament on the way to next year’s nationals and a gold medal.

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