Four big fish of the local judo scene are going to take a dip into the deep blue Pacific this weekend.
Josh and Jim Wiens, Stephanie Legault and Garth Rivers from the Moose Jaw Koseikan Judo Club will make their international debuts when they travel to the Vancouver Pacific International tournament Feb. 15-16. All four have plenty of national experience and ready to take the next step competing against the top judoka from Canada, the cream of the U.S. college crop and the Japanese national team.
Though it will be their international debut, that experience isn't what their looking for -- they're going to win.
"It's an excellent opportunity to make a name for ourselves," said Josh Wiens who along with brother Jim is also an instructor at the club. "We're going to win, we're not going there to see the sights."
Jim and Josh Wiens are each competing in the 100+ kilogram open field. Jim finished second at the recent Swift Current Judo Tournament while Josh sat the event out with a nagging back injury. His back is still in question heading to Vancouver, but he says if it holds up, he expects to do well.
"I definitely think they can compete," said Koseikan sensei Cliff Wiens who is Josh and Jim's father. "Dean Legare won it last year and I don't think they're that far behind him."
The Pacific International is one of three tournaments in the year -- the national championships and either the Ontario or Quebec Open are the others -- that build points towards making the national team and receiving a card for Federal funding. A competitor that wins their event qualifies automatically for nationals.
Rivers and Legault are both 17 and still have a couple of years of junior eligibility remaining. It's a big step for the emerging young judoka but their sensei doesn't expect them to be awed by the competition.
"If Garth doesn't place I'm going to kick his butt," said sensei Wiens. "He should be on the podium. He has all the talent and he's training hard. That's the one thing about the people from our club -- you don't have to worry about them tiring out. The longer it goes the better we are."
Rivers is ranked third in the country amongst Junior -55kg competitors and that ranking would surely go up with a good showing in Vancouver. Considering that Rivers was fourth in the Ontario Open two years ago, a podium place isn't out of the question.
Legault is in a little tougher than Rivers and will face not one, but two Olympians in her -63kg class. Michelle Buckingham has been to two Olympic Games, while Luce Baillargeon finished fourth at the last world championships. The pair are part of only 10 judoka who are part of the 'A' national team.
"Steph's going to have it tough," said sensei Wiens. "But by no means is she out of her league. Those two will be really tough, but against the masses she'll hold her own."
The Wiens expect 15 judoka in the 100+kg division and 20 or more in Rivers' and Legault's divisions. They are each guaranteed two fights in the double-knockout competition which features a blind draw.
From the Mat . . . the Moose Jaw Judo Parent's Association helped fundraise for the trip to Vancouver and the athletes would like to pass along their thanks . . . the next local tournament is the Saskatchewan Open Provincial Championships -- Feb. 22 at SIAST Palliser Campus.
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald Feb 13, 2003