Jessica Klimkait, judoka (born 31 December 1996 in Whitby, ON). At the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo, Jessica Klimkait became the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic medal in judo, winning bronze in the women’s 57 kg division. Earlier in 2021, Klimkait became the second Canadian judoka, after Christa Deguchi, to win gold at the World Judo Championships. Klimkait has won four consecutive national junior championships and two consecutive senior national titles. She was also the first Canadian judoka to win an age-group world title. She has won eight medals at International Judo Federation (IJF) Grand Slam events and three bronze medals at IJF Masters events. She was ranked No. 1 in the world in her weight class at the end of 2020 and No. 2 at the end of 2021.
Childhood and Family
Jessica Klimkait is the youngest child of Rob and Kathy Klimkait. Her older brother Justin also competed in judo, winning a silver medal in the male under 45 kg division at the 2008 Canadian U17 Judo Championships.
Initially, Jessica expressed interest in gymnastics. However, she took an interest in judo at age four after she started watching her brother and father compete in the sport. Jessica began memorizing their movements, according to Julia Knope and Yasmine Ghania of CBC News.
Klimkait’s parents enrolled her at the Ajax Budokan Judo Club, where coach Kevin Doherty was impressed by her commitment, maturity and dedication at such an early age. “She never talked back,” Doherty said in an interview with durhamregion.com. “She did everything we asked of her, never spoke up, and never missed a practice, even as a five-year-old. She was the first one there on the mat and the last one to leave.”
National Junior Success
In 2011, at the age of 14, Klimkait placed first in the U17 female 44 kg division at the National Cadet Championships, and won the gold medal in the U20 female 44 kg division at the Canadian National Junior Championships. In 2012, Klimkait trained with Ontario provincial judo team coach Pedro Guedes at the Toronto Regional Training Centre. She again won the gold medal at the Canadian National Junior Championships, this time in the 48 kg female division.
World Cadet Champion
Klimkait was only 16 when she beat the best junior judokas in the world in the U52 kg division at the 2013 World Cadet U18 Judo Championships in Miami. This made her the first Canadian judoka ever to win an age-group world title. Klimkait also finished second at the 2013 Canadian Judo Championship in Richmond, British Columbia, behind future Olympian Ecaterina Guica.
Canada Winter Games Champion
In 2014, Klimkait won bronze medals at both a World Cup event in Australia and at the Junior European Cup in Coimbra, Portugal. She also won a fourth consecutive gold medal at the Canadian National Junior Championships. Klimkait entered the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, BC, as a gold medal favourite. She beat Camelia Pitsilis to win the gold medal in the female 57 kg individual competition, and shared the bronze medal in the team competition.
Success at the Senior Level
In 2015, Klimkait won her first national championship at the senior level. She also won her first international tournament at the 2015 Belgian Ladies Open Arlon, at the age of 18. In 2016, Klimkait moved to Montreal and began training at the National Training Centre, where she was coached by Janusz Pawlowski and her childhood coach, Kevin Doherty. In 2017, at age 20, Klimkait won bronze at the Grand Slam Ekaterinburg in Russia and at the Grand Prix Hohhot in China, as well as gold at the 2017 Pan American Judo Championships in Panama City.
In 2018, Klimkait won her first Grand Slam title. She also won bronze at the 2018 International Judo Federation World Masters in Guangzhou, China, and won silver medals at Grand Prix events in Croatia, Mexico and China. In 2019, Klimkait won the Grand Prix Zagreb and finished in the top three in five other grand slam or grand prix events. She ended the year with a second consecutive IJF Masters Grand Prix bronze medal.
Rivalry with Christa Deguchi
With the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo fast approaching, a rivalry was developing in Canada in the women’s 57 kg weight class. Fellow judoka Christa Deguchi, who is a year older than Klimkait and had been representing Japan at international competitions, began to compete for Canada in October 2017, just as Klimkait was beginning to compete at the senior level. Deguchi had won bronze at the 2018 World Championships and gold at the 2019 World Championships.
By July 2020, Deguchi was ranked first in the world and Klimkait was second. Only one of them could represent Canada in the women’s 57 kg weight class at the Olympic Games. As a result, a best-of-three series was set to take place. However, due to the postponement of the Games because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the series was cancelled. It was instead decided that the judoka with the best result at the 2021 World Judo Championships in Budapest would represent Canada at the Tokyo Olympics.
In 2020, Klimkait won Grand Slam events in Dusseldorf and Budapest. After her Budapest victory in October, Klimkait was ranked No. 1 in the world for the first time in her career, knocking Deguchi to second place.
2021 World Championships
Between 2017 and the 2021 World Championships, Klimkait earned 21 medals at international competitions, five of them gold. At the 2021 World Judo Championships in Budapest, Klimkait went undefeated throughout the tournament and won the gold medal, while Deguchi finished fifth. Klimkait became only the second Canadian to win a gold medal at the World Judo Championships, following Deguchi in 2019.
2020 Olympic Summer Games
Klimkait made history at the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo, which were held in 2021. As the reigning world champion, Klimkait was favoured to win gold in Tokyo but suffered a shocking loss on penalties in the semifinals to France’s Sarah-Leonie Cysique. With less than one hour to regroup, Klimkait rallied to defeat Kaja Kajzer of Slovenia for the bronze in the women’s 57 kg weight class on 26 July 2021. This made her the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic medal in Judo.
“Obviously, I came here with gold in mind,” Klimkait said in an interview the following day. “That was the goal for me, especially after coming from the world championships, winning that. But at the end of the day, I'm just happy that I was able to collect myself after that loss and come away with a medal.” Klimkait was one of two Canadian women to medal in judo at the Tokyo Olympics. Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard won the bronze medal in the women’s 63 kg weight class on 27 July 2021.