When you want to get better in sport, you've got to seek out stronger competition.
The 17 local athletes who attended the Edmonton International Judo Tournament this weekend were nearly all up against the toughest opposition they had seen.
"The kids did very well, but they had a lot of hard fights," said Moose Jaw Koseikan Judo Club coach Jim Wiens. "(It's not like) going to a smaller tournament where you compete against unskilled opponents."
The club picked up three gold medals, three silvers and four bronze finishes.
"For the amount of athletes and the level of skill that was present, I think that everybody we took with us did very, very well," said Wiens, who had high praise for the three top place athletes.
"They showed that they are the best athletes in western Canada for those age and weight divisions."
Brianna Walz earned a gold for Moose Jaw, and Wiens was impressed with her strong performance on Sunday despite battling a nasty cold.
"She was able to put it all past her and not let it interfere with her competition at all," said Wiens.
Another athlete who caught the coach's eye was gold medallist Devin Kiryk, whose young career as a wrestler has influenced his judo techniques.
"He brings a very different, unique style to his judo because he's such an accomplished wrestler," said Wiens. "He catches a lot of the other athletes off guard. He shoots for the legs a lot, where a lot of your standard judo competitors are expecting you to stand up and grip higher."
Kiryk went undefeated in his four matches en route to winning his third straight gold medal at the event.
The large and prestigious tournament, held at the West Edmonton Mall for the fourth consecutive year, attracted 637 athletes from a wide variety of locales - everywhere from Nunavut to Scotland and France.
Given the tough field of competition, Wiens noted that some athletes might not have finished as high as they're used to. But the coach hopes that the experience will help them see what part of their skill set needs improvement.
"Some of the kids who didn't do as well, it lets them know that there's certain parts of their judo that they have to work on when they get back," said Wiens.
"It shows them where those weaknesses are and where . . . they have to better themselves to get ready for the next time."
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald March 24, 2009