They went looking for a fight and they definitely, definitely found one.
Members of the Moose Jaw Koseikan Judo Club were able to win only two matches at the Pacific International Senior and Junior Invitational tournament recently in Vancouver, with the competitive level as high as many in the local contingent have ever seen.
"The talent there was just incredible, even though the Japanese team didn't come this year," club instructor Jim Wiens said via phone from Vancouver. "It wasn't even just us who were sorta outclassed, the guy who beat (heavyweight competitor) Josh (Wiens) for bronze at nationals this year didn't even place, didn't win a fight. It was just an incredible tournament for talent.
"It's not like we went to the Watrous tournament. If we were coming here to wipe everybody out, what would be the sense in coming?"
Wiens put together one of the best showings out of the six local competitors, finishing fifth out of 10 in the over-100-kg division -- and even more impressively coming within a time-keeping error of advancing to the bronze medal match.
The controversy evolved out of Wiens' third fight of tournament, a tilt against Robert Bessler of the host Steveston Judo Club. The duo had battled to a near stalemate in judo terms, with Bessler holding a koka (eighth-point) lead going into the final minute.
With four seconds remaining Wiens was hit with a koka-equivalent penalty for stepping out of bounds, which should have stopped the clock until the fight restarted. No sooner did the referee signal the fight to resume than did Wiens engage Bessler and pull off what should have been the match-winning throw -- only to have it called back because time had inexplicably expired.
"The alarm hadn't gone off (on the electronic scoreboard), but the guys who were running it let the time run down to nothing while I was walking back to the line to get the penalty," Wiens explained. "It burned off the last four seconds instead of stopping and the ref wouldn't give me my last throw.
"I was pretty choked, because if I'd have won that fight I'd have had another one for the bronze and who knows what would have happened there," he added. "It was kind of the controversy of the tournament, everyone was asking me about it afterwards."
Still, Wiens was philosophical about the result -- knowing how the fight ended, he saw little reason as to why he couldn't have won sooner.
"It was like I was saying to (tournament director) Ken (Takahashi) later on, if I could beat him in the last four seconds why didn't I beat him in the first four?" he said. "It was my own fault for going for the Hail Mary throw right at the end."
The ignoble ending followed a decent start to the tournament Wiens, who defeated Marek Marsalkuski of Calgary in his opening match -- avenging a defeat at an earlier tournament -- before losing to North Delta, B.C.'s Jan Karnick in his next bout. Karnick, who finished fifth at the previous world championships, stands in at seven-foot-one and weighs over 280 pounds.
"I actually lasted a fair while with him, but after awhile there was a place I softened up a bit and that was it," Wiens said. "I couldn't do anything to him, it was just hang on and hope for the best."
Of the remaining five members of the team, only Brian Smith was able to win a match, finishing 1-2 in the under-100-kg senior class. Josh Wiens (over-100-kg senior), Stephanie Legault (under-70-kg senior), Jeremy Williams (under-55-kg senior) Garth Rivers (under-60-kg junior) all were winless.
In addition to bringing valuable on-mat experience to the local team, the tournament also gave the Koseikan fighters an indication of what they need to work on in the future in order to reach that level.
"We know for sure that our conditioning is great, we lasted every match and no one was dragging themselves off the mat at the end of their fights," Wiens said. "Our cardio, our conditioning is wonderful. It's our fighting, our ran-dori in the club where we have to work. That's where our big improvement has to come. We spend so much time doing our running, our push-ups, our sit-ups, anything for cardio, that the other stuff is falling by the wayside.
"It's definitely something we'll be working on and hopefully that leads to a lot of improvement in the future."
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald March 27, 2004