Article by Christine Ulmer, Team BC Communications
Even as things were going black for Lavanna Laass, her last thought was that she would never give up.
The 18-year-old Team BC Judo athlete from Prince George was choked out in the gold medal match at the 2015 Canada Winter Games, something she had never experienced before.
“I came into this match going for gold,” she said. “I really, really wanted it, not just for myself but for everyone who was there with me and for Prince George.”
Laass knew the gold medal would be a tough fight.
“I faced a really tough competitor,” said Laass. “But when I stepped onto the mat, I heard the loudest cheering I have ever experienced, and it was all for me. At that moment I was a bit nervous but I took that energy and instead of letting it get to me, I let it empower me. I decided right there that I would not give up until I won.”
In the final seconds of the match Laass was in a chokehold – a difficult place to be, for even the most experienced judoka.
“I was trying to get out and I thought I almost had it so I just kept going, I refused to stop,” she said. “I really thought in that last second that I could do it and then I passed out. That was the first time that has happened and it was a little bit scary but I don’t regret not tapping out. I was not ready to give up and I wasn’t going to give up, no matter what.”
Laass was inspired to compete well at the Games by her friends, 2015 Canada Winter Games medalists Claire LaPointe and Emily Dickson.
“These Games have been amazing and I am so proud of everyone from Prince George. We all worked so hard to get here and to be able to compete in front of our hometown and then do well, it’s amazing. It’s really a surreal feeling.”
Though she would have liked to win the gold, a silver medal in Judo is something Laass is very proud of.
“In the end, even though I didn’t get gold, I did my best so I don’t feel like I let anyone down.”
Laass’s medal was just one of three earned by Team BC athletes in Judo on Wednesday. Her teammates Leo Goldberg (15, Langley) and Ario Nishimura (16, Richmond) also climbed the podium.
Goldberg won bronze in the 60kg category and Nishimura won silver in the 73kg category.
“I was really hoping for a medal but I was actually pretty surprised that I got one,” said Goldberg. “A lot of the guys are a few years older than me, the age range is 15-19 so I’m at the bottom end of that.”
Goldberg has competed at a high level before, including trips to the podium at nationals but the bronze medal at Canada Winter Games felt a little different.
“It was really exhilarating,” he said. “I threw my opponent on his back, which is an automatic win and it was pretty exciting.”
Nishimura sailed into the gold medal match after strong preliminary fights during the competition.
“I came in with a plan to win and losing in the gold medal match didn’t feel good,” he said. “My opponent was two years older than me and had more experience, he has been to the worlds, so he was definitely tough.”
Team BC will continue in Judo later this week with the team competition.