For most athletes in most sports, attending a national championships is a novel accomplishment, often a singular highlight of a career.
But for Moose Jaw Koseikan Judo Club judoka Mark Pivovar, it’s just another tournament — another tournament where, this year, winning a medal is a very distinct possibility.
Pivovar, 21, will attend the Canadian National Judo Championships in Montreal this weekend and from all indications should have a realistic shot at finishing in the medals in his fourth year of competition.
“I’m hoping for at least top three, a bronze medal,” he said shortly after a recent training session at the Koseikan dojo. “It actually works out pretty well that this is an Olympic year, a lot of the top guys are going to sit out nationals to make sure they don’t get hurt. So that opens up a couple of spots.”
That means Pivovar — who fights in the highly competitive under-81 kilogram division — won’t have to face the likes of Calgary’s Keith Morgan, who has won several internationals tournaments this season and is almost certain to represent Canada in Sydney.
So does the potential for a watered-down field taint Pivovar’s potential accomplishments?
Not at all, he says, because the depth of the sport in his division ensures quality competition no matter who shows up to fight.
“I’ll know a lot of the guys there, but you never know who’s coming up through the ranks,” Pivovar said. “There will probably be a few new faces too, and that’s something I’ll be prepared for. It happens all the time, a defending champion gets thrown by Joe Blow in the first round and that’s it. I’ll have to be ready no matter who I’m up against.”
With seven national championships under his belt – four as a junior and the last three in the senior division — there’s little question Pivovar knows what it takes to succeed at a national level.
“I pretty much have it planned out what I want to do,” he said. “A lot of it is standard stuff, getting my grip and always moving, but the important thing is not to worry about the big throw so much as fighting smart.”
That means taking whatever opening his opponent gives him, and at this level, those openings are often exceedingly small.
So often the idea is to create your own opportunities — Pivovar points to a recent match at junior nationals for Regina’s Kalem Kachur, which Kachur won on penalties simply by forcing his opponent to make mistakes such as stepping out of the red-bordered fighting area.
“That’s smart judo and that’s exactly what I want to do,” Pivovar said. “You don’t have to win a match with an ippon throw every time. I’ll try to work the red and move my opponent around as much as possible and see what I can do from there.”
Having seen what Pivovar is capable of throughout the tournament season, Koseikan club sensei Cliff Wiens is confident in his abilities.
“He’s really been fighting well all year so he should really have a shot at a medal,” Wiens said. “The kind of experience he has at nationals should really help him a lot.”
Pivovar — a first-degree black belt who posted a stellar 35-8 record in competiton throughout Western Canada this year — will be going into nationals with the remnants of a shoulder injury suffered in a tournament in Prince Albert earlier this year, but expects that problem to give him little difficulty.
“I’ve fought with worse, so this shouldn’t bother me too much,” he said.
Pivovar originally hails from Regina and is currently in his final year of school at SIAST where he’s studying civil engineering. As such, it’s very likely this could be his last nationals with the Moose Jaw club.
“I’ll still be here at the start of next season and until the end of the December, but we’ll see what happens after that,” he said. “I’ll probably go back to Montreal and train there, but that’s a decision I still have to make.”
Regardless of what happens this weekend, though, Pivovar plans to keep hitting the local dojo two or three times a week.
“It’s something I really enjoy, even outside of competition,” he said. “It’s good to come to judo and get away from school or work and I know I won’t be giving it up any time soon.”
And to win a national championship?
“That would be incredible,” Pivovar said. “The best I’ve ever done is fifth, so to finish in the medals would be great. But to win it all, that would be something else.”
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald April 15, 2000