The big guys were the ones to watch for the Moose Jaw Koseikan Judo Club during the Saskatchewan Open championships this weekend in Regina.
Three of the club's over-90 kilogram competitors combined to win four medals at the high-profile event -- annually featuring more than 200 fighters from throughout the prairies -- with Josh Wiens taking gold in the over-100 kg division to go along with a pair of silver medal performances from Jim Wiens and gold and bronze medals from Brian Smith.
Given the depth of competition at the event, especially in the heavyweight class, picking up that kind of hardware took plenty of exceptional performances according to Koseikan head instructor Cliff Wiens.
"They didn't have an easy time of it this weekend, that's for sure," he said with a chuckle. "Everyone who went down there had quite a bit of competition and they had to fight well in order to get their medals."
Josh's showing in the over-100 kg division was especially impressive in that he won four straight matches to claim the title.
"He had a super day, there were eight in his division and for a heavyweight class that's quite a bit," Wiens said. "Even though he weighs in at 260, he's one of the smallest guys in his class and this tournament he was the smallest, so he had to be fighting well to win."
Part of Josh's success in the tournament came from a recent change in fighting strategy to deal with just that factor.
"He's had to change his philosophy of fighting from big man fighting to small man fighting, and that seemed to work for him," Wiens explained.
"He'd get the big men chasing and then he'd drop out from underneath them, he'd set them up, tease them and tease them and then catch them when he dropped down."
Josh's move of choice for each victory wasn't overly complicated -- in fact, it's one of the first shoulder throws taught to beginning judoka, with a quick drop-to-the-mat element thrown in for added leverage. Against larger opponents and with perfect timing, it's often a quick way to victory.
"Two of his wins were outright ippons and the other was a throw for a waza-ari (half-point) that he was able to turn into a hold down and win that way," Wiens explained. "It's a really effective technique for him."
Smith picked up his gold medal with relative ease in the under-100 kg division before moving up to the plus-100-kg class and earning bronze. Jim Wiens posted a 2-2 record in the 100-kg plus class, losing to his younger brother in the 100-kg plus final. He also picked up a silver medal in the over-30 plus-90 kg class.
The club also picked up six medals in the lighter weight classes, with Levi Cordick going undefeated to win the juvenile boys under-55 kg and Jeremy Williams also winning three straight for gold in the junior under-55 kg.
Garth Rivers (junior under-60 kg), Stephanie Legault (senior under-70 kg) and Derek Porter (senior under-81 kg) were all bronze medallists. Dave Guthrie (senior under-90 kg) finished fifth in a category that featured four former national medallists, while Lonny Kemp competed in his first tournament and lost both matches in the same division.
The club will now spend the next month preparing for the Pacific International Senior Invitational in Vancouver, with seven Koseikan competitors -- the Wiens brothers, Porter, Smith, Legault, Rivers and Williams -- selected to represent Saskatchewan at the event.
"This weekend shows that we're on the right track for Vancouver," Wiens said. "Now they're fighting at a higher caliber and they're keeping up and when they go to the Pacific International, it'll be one more step yet. It'll be on par with nationals, so if they can medal in Vancouver, they're sure to medal at nationals.
"They're all training hard for it right now, they have the black belt stuff out of the way and now they're focused on their training."
The club will take part in one tune-up tournament prior to the Pacific, traveling to Swift Current Feb. 7.
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald January 20, 2004