Olivia Leeman certainly doesn’t mind following in the footsteps of her older brother.
The Elmira teen, along with her brother Phil, recently returned from the 2012 International Judo Championships held Mar. 30 to Apr. 1 in Edmonton, where both fighters earned a silver medal.
The medal was the second straight silver for Olivia, 13, after a second-place finish at last month’s Ontario Winter Games in Collingwood. In both competitions she came out strong by winning her first two matches, but unfortunately she lost in the gold medal match in both Collingwood and Edmonton to Natasha Badowski of Hamilton.
“It was kind of frustrating,” said Olivia of the losses, considering she had beaten Badowski earlier in the year at a tournament in Cambridge. In both gold-medal fights Olivia was knocked back on her heels, which gave her opponent the opportunity to throw her to the mat and collect the win in the Youth 15 -57 kg category.
Phil entered the competition in Edmonton with a nagging wrist injury, but that still didn’t slow him down as he won his first two fights in the Under 20 -66 kg category before losing in the finals. He also entered the Senior Men’s -66 kg division and in spite of being one of the youngest competitors in the division finished with a record of 2-2.
Olivia has been training and competing in judo since she was five years old, and she said it was her brother’s involvement that initially drew her in. After taking the year off in 2011 to try synchronized swimming in Kitchener she returned to judo this year.
“What brought me back was that I love competing and I love the sport,” she said. In an ironic twist, after never suffering a serious injury through all her years of judo, she did get a concussion while synchronized swimming.
Her judo training regimen is intense, practicing five nights a week at the Kaizan judo club in Waterloo with her older brother as her coach, along with Bob Zettl. Currently a green belt, she is only three levels away from being a black belt like her brother, who earned the distinction of being the youngest black belt in the club at the age of 15 last February.
Her major strength is fighting on the ground, she said, while her weakness is her balance while fighting standing upright, but Phil knows how they can remedy that problem.
“Olivia fights with her feet flat, while most fighters fight on the balls of their feet,” said Phil. “Once we get her moving from her flat feet more to her toes, her balance will be more forwards rather than backwards, which was how she got thrown for a gold medal in Edmonton.”
Both siblings are currently training for the upcoming Youth National Championships to be held in Toronto on July 5 and 6, where Phil is the defending silver medalist after last year’s competition in the Under-17 category. This year he will be fighting in the Under-20 category.
While the competitive spirit runs high in their household, they do agree on one thing – that women tend to fight feistier and more intensely than men do.
“We pinch, pull hair, bite – well, I don’t bite – and they’ll yank your ponytail and dig in with their nails,” said Olivia.
And should she cross paths again with Badowski at the upcoming nationals?
“I’ll be ready. I’ve got her.”