Members of the Moose Jaw Koseikan Judo Club went to the Pacific International tournament in Vancouver looking for high-level competition and that's exactly what they got.
So while the four local competitors didn't return with any hardware to speak of, they were still more than satisfied with the excursion.
"The people who were there were there to fight, it was as good of competition that we could have hoped for," said club instructor Jim Wiens, who joined brother Josh Wiens in the 100-plus kilogram category.
"For both Josh and I, we've always kind of stuck around the provincial level tournaments our whole careers so this was quite an eye opener for both of us. Neither of us had fought in an Ontario Open or anything like and that made this a pretty good experience."
Junior provincial team members Stephanie Legault (women's under-63 kg) and Garth Rivers (men's under-55) also took part in the event but failed to win a match against the ultra-tough competition.
The Wiens brothers finished fifth and sixth respectively, with Jim taking the higher ranking because of a first-round bye.
"We were pretty close to the top three, we both could have medalled," Wiens said of the competition. "The only person there who was out of our league was the guy from the Japanese university team who got gold. He absolutely dominated everybody."
Saskatchewan senior team member Lloyd Bullerwell -- who tops the scales at over 300 pounds -- was one of his victims, losing by ippon (full point) off a spectacular throw in the championship match.
"He just picked him up and threw him like nothing, like he was a rag doll that weighed 140 pounds," Wiens said in amazement. "The incredible thing is that he wasn't that big of a guy, he barely made it into the 100-kg-plus category, but he moved like he was 80-kilos. He was just all over the place. It was something else to watch."
While neither Josh or Jim had a chance to face their Japanese opponent, there was in interesting piece of interaction -- one that showcased the Koseikan contingent's spirit of sportsmanship.
During an early round match, the Japanese star was called for having too small of a gi top. Josh happened to be watching the match at the time and quickly stepped in, offering his uniform as a replacement.
"(The Japanese fighter) didn't speak English, and he didn't know how to react because when you get that elite of a level, if you're stuck without a gi that's too bad for you," Jim said. "But we don't usually compete at that level and we'd rather fight than win that way, so this guy was in awe that Josh would give him his gi like that.
"He didn't know 'thank you' so he just kept bowing to Josh and saying 'sorry, sorry'. It was kind of a funny moment, but it showed too that we were there for the fun as much as the competition."
Both local heavyweight competitors would go on to finish the tournament with 1-2 records.
Legault went winless in her two fights but battled the luck of the draw and a strict interpretation of the rules while doing so.
"All four of us noticed during the tournament they were very strict on non-combativity penalties," Wiens explained. "It was boom, boom, boom, penalty, penalty, penalty and you're done, bye.
"That's what happened in Steph's first match," he added. "It was pretty frustrating for her because she penaltied herself out. She was leading three quarters of the way through but because she was ahead she started fighting defensively and that was something that ended up hurting her."
The fighter Legault lost to in that match went on to win bronze while the victor in her second tilt picked up the gold medal.
"She had a couple of very, very good fighters in her first two matches, it's just how things worked out in the draw," Wiens said.
Rivers had even less luck in his division, as he suffered a knee injury early in his first match and ended up finishing third overall.
The Koseikan club will be back in action this weekend when they host the ultra-competitive Sask Open tournament. Action gets under way Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at SIAST, and admission is free.
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald Feb 19, 2003