As a competitor with Moldavia at the 1993 World Judo championships, Fedor Lazarenko came to a difficult decision, one that he felt had to be made if he was to continue in his chosen sport.
A former European champion and bronze medalist that year in the under-66 kilogram division, Lazarenko decided to defect to Canada after the tournament -- a path that eventually led to his recent appearance at the Moose Jaw Koseikan Judo club.
The fourth-degree black belt and former Canadian national champion, Lazarenko was recently hired by Judo Saskatchewan as the association's high-performance coach and technical director. His stop in Moose Jaw was his first to the local club since assuming the position last fall.
"I want to have a chance to see what's out there and what's going on at the different clubs in the province, just make sure everyone is going in the same direction," Lazarenko said during a break in classes Tuesday. "It gives me a chance to work with the students and pass on diffferent techniques, help them improve in judo."
That's something that wouldn't necessarily have been possible had he remained in Moldavia. The former Soviet Union state was in financial and political disarray at the time, to the point that Lazarenko felt remaining in the country would only have a detrimental effect on his future in the sport.
"I was thinking I couldn't live in that situation, especially if I wouldn't be able to teach judo," he said. "I was an international competitor, I had very good experience at an international level and I didn't want to have to give it up. By coming over to Canada I would be able to compete and pass on what I'd learned to people who were coming up in the sport."
Lazarenko did just that soon after settling in his new country, and after winning citizenship in 1997, competed and won the 1999 Canadian senior championship in his weight class.
As a competitor for Canada, Lazarenko finished fifth at the Pan American Games that year and also competed for his adopted country in the 2000 Commonwealth judo championships, winning bronze.
Now semi-retired from competition, Lazarenko is focussing his energy on developing Saskatchewan's judoka into some of the top competitors in the country -- however much time that may take.
"The way I see it, I have the best selection in that there are so many kids I can work with," Lazarenko said. "The important thing is for them to want to work hard. If you don't have any talent but you're willing to work hard, I can get you there. And even if you have talent, you have to be willing to work on it, otherwise it could go to waste."
To that point, Lazarenko isn't going into this high performance selection process with any pre-conceived notions about his athletes -- the past, with all its failures and successes, is still the past.
"That's how I look at it," he said. "You can't change the past but you can change the future. That's my goal in Saskatchewan right now, to help these athletes get better and better and become the best they can be."
The Moose Jaw judo club fits into that plan perfectly, Lazarenko said, especially with it's overall size and the number of young competitors in the club.
"I think there could be a lot of good kids here," he said. "You never know, you could have a future Olympic champion training here right now. The facility is good, there are a lot of good instructors, so there's a lot to work with here.
"It's my job as provincial coach to help everyone go in the same direction and improve, and hopefully that means every club will benefit."
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald Feb 2, 2002