Can Deguchi bounce back once again?

In the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it was generally assumed that Christa Deguchi would be the one chosen to represent Canada in the -57kg division rather than Jessica Klimkait.

Both of them were closely ranked by the IJF with Deguchi often ranking 1st and Klimkait 2nd. Deguchi had a better track record but their performances internationally were sufficiently close that Judo Canada decided to have a special three-match play-off to determine who would go to the Tokyo Games.

Covid-19 spoiled those plans and it was eventually decided that the 2021 World Championships would be used to determine who would go. At that point, the common view amongst pundits was that Deguchi would probably triumph.

Watch Deguchi win the -57kg gold at the 2019 Tokyo World Championships.

She was the 2019 World Champion, had won the Pan-American Championships twice and has nine IJF World Tour gold medals. Klimkait at that point had won the Pan-Ams once and had five IJF golds. But beyond those results, Deguchi had a perfect track record of beating Klimkait (6:0) every time they fought at international events.

Klimkait surprised everyone by becoming the 2021 World Champion. That earned her the -57kg spot on the Canadian team headed for Tokyo. And at the Olympics, although she did not win the gold, she did secure a creditable bronze medal.

Since the Olympics, Klimkait has competed in the 2022 Antalya Grand Slam, and won gold there. Deguchi also took part in that one but she failed to win a medal, losing in the semifinal and the bronze medal match.

It’s just one competition and there are still many more to come in this next Olympic cycle. Will she be able to prevail and surge past Klimkait in the next two years?

It’s hard to say because Klimkait seems to be peaking too. But it’s worth noting that Deguchi is a real fighter. Prior to representing Canada, she fought for Japan. She was a promising player, winning gold at the Jeju Grand Prix and bronze at the Tokyo Grand Slam in 2013, and silver at the World Junior Championships in 2014.

However, she was competing in the era of Kaori Matsumoto and had no chance to represent Japan in any international tournaments after the World Junior Championships in October 2014. It wasn’t until October 2017 that she would compete again, although this time it was for Canada.

She didn’t do well initially, losing her first matches at the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and the 2017 Tokyo Grand Slam. However, she quickly found her footing and won her next tournament, the Odivelas World Cup, followed by another win, this time at the prestigious 2017 Paris Grand Slam.

Deguchi would go on to win many more events, culminating in her career peak at the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo where she defeated Japan’s Tsukasa Yoshida.

So, she really bounced back after such a major setback early in her career. Will she be able to do it once again? It’s definitely possible though her teammate and rival, Klimkait, will be there to challenge her every step of the way.