Antoine Valois-Fortier wins bronze for Canada in his first Olympics

No one mentioned Antoine Valois-Fortier as a medal possibility before London 2012, but he delivered an out-of-nowhere outlier performance while ending the country's drought on the judo mat.

Perhaps due to setbacks caused by a skein of injuries in 2009, an occupational hazard of his combat sport, Valois-Fortier came to London ranked 17th in the world. However, with Canada's previous medal-winning judoka, Nicolas Gill, as his coach, the 22-year-old delivered inspired judo, beating several more vaunted competitors to get on the podium. The Vanier, Que., native turned the tables on North American rival Travis Stevens in the bronze-medal match, prevailing 1-0 to get the final medal in the men's under 81 kg division. Valois-Fortier had lost 4-of-5 previous matches against Stevens.

Judokas often tend to peak in their mid-20s. Valois-Fortier was the second-youngest competitor to reach the final eight, which adds to the pleasant surprise for Canada.

The Vanier, Que., native who took up judo at age four won a bronze medal at last fall's Pan-Am Games and took silver in the Pan-American championships, but was in a tough 81-kg field in London. Just getting into the quarter-finals required beating Montenegro's Srdjan Mrvaljevic, a silver medallist in the 2011 worlds. At the stage, the tournament moved to modified double-elimination format. Valois-Fortier lost his quarter-final to Russia's Ivan Nifontov. In judo, a quarter-final loser goes into a repechage semifinal. The survivor goes on to square off against a semifinal loser for one of the two bronze medals.

Valois-Fortier, following his setback vs. Nifontov, beat a more experienced Argentinian, Emmanuel Lucenti, to sustain his medal hopes. One can only presume that Gill, on a day which required constantly recharging and refocusing, helped fill in the gaps in his protégé's experience to shepherd him through the day.

Valois-Forier is the type of surprise medal the Canadian Olympic Committee is counting on to fulfill reach its Top 12 in 2012 benchmark. It's Canada's third medal of the Games, all bronze.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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