All it took was a simple glance at the draw for Moose Jaw Koseikan Judo Club competitor Derek Porter to know he was in for a tough battle at the national senior judo championships in Kitchener, Ont. on the weekend.
First, there was the sheer number of competitors in his under-81 kilogram division -- no less than 27, the largest number of any at the event. Add to that the fact the top six in his weight class were all seasoned international veterans and former national medallists.
Then to top it off, Porter's first round opponent was a third-degree black belt from Quebec, the mecca of judo in Canada.
It doesn't get much more difficult than that.
Still, Porter was able to give a good accounting of himself against Saint-Hyacinthe, Que.'s Simon Dutremble in his opening bout before eventually losing in the later stages.
"To be honest I was doing alright, I was up on him halfway through the match before he caught me in a holddown," Porter said shortly after returning home Monday. "Overall, it was an awesome experience, but a very difficult one. It just happened that I was in the deepest and most difficult category and there were some heavy hitters in there, too."
That depth could be seen in the fact Porter had only one match since Dutremble himself was knocked out in the next round to prevent the Koseikan competitor from re-entering the draw through repechage.
So while Porter wasn't able to take a run at a medal during the weekend, he was still more than happy to have had a chance to compete in his second national tournament and again learn from some of the best in the country.
"I did better, much better than last year, and the more chances I have to go to high calibre tournaments like this I know I'm going to walk away that much stronger and that much smarter," he said. "You take away more each time and it gives you motivation to keep going and keep pushing forward, for sure."
That's much the same attitude fellow Koseikan competitor Josh Wiens is taking from his appearance at nationals, where he also fell short of earning a victory despite high expectations going in.
Wiens lost his opening bout in the over-100 kg class on points to Alberta's Ben Noji before dropping his second match by holddown to Adriano Bernardo of B.C.
The losses were that much tougher to stomach in that Wiens felt he had a true shot at winning both -- first knowing Noji had competed in the Sask Open earlier in the year and missed the medals while Wiens won the division, and then having a minor mistake on the ground lead to his loss to Bernardo.
"I guess I would say it just wasn't my day," Wiens said. "My level of fighting throughout the year was a lot better than what I showed, I think I had a stronger year, I was flying, I was moving like a cat. But Sunday I just didn't have that zip. So I'd say I performed the same as last year, but with another year behind me I would have liked to have performed better."
Wiens felt part of his showing on the weekend could be attributed to experience -- as only his second senior national meet, he knows he still had plenty to learn at that level.
"Definitely after this year and watching those guys fight, I know I can compete at that level, it's a matter of working on consistency and the mental aspects of it," he said. " When you get to that level and the pressure, it's a lot different than fighting your local Moose Jaw tournament or your Sask Opens. It's a whole different level you're preparing for."
All the more reason to put on a push for greater preparation and success next year.
"Training for next year starts in two weeks, not two months beforehand, so it's time to gear down and start training and see what I can do next year," Wiens said. "The idea will be to have a good season all the way through and then carry it over through nationals and see what I can do there."
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald May 11, 2004