Canada's Karine Sergerie shows her gold medal after winning the women's 67kg Taekwondo competition at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro on Monday. Photo by Enrique Marcarian

Sergerie already Canada's most decorated taekwondo athlete

by John MacKinnon, Edmonton Journal, Monday, July 16, 2007.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — It’s not always easy helping your child find the activity that’s right for her and Karine Sergerie’s parents certainly didn’t push their daughter into taekwondo. Not right away, anyway.

Mostly, they were at their wits’ end when they brought the five-year-old with them to the gym to see if perhaps she’d be happy channelling her abundant energy into a little disciplined punching and kicking. “Take a whack at this, Sweetie,’’ they said, more or less. Smart move, as it turns out.

Seventeen years later, Sergerie is a Pan American Games gold medallist, the current world champion as a welterweight, with her sights firmly set on the top of the podium at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

“I don’t know, honestly,” the Saint-Catherine, Que., native said about her early initiation into the sport. “My parents tried everything — dancing, painting, a lot of activities that just didn’t work. I guess I was always very active.

“And my parents have always been in martial arts, so at one point, they gave up and said, ‘OK, just come and train with us.’ ”

Sergerie trained and competed and has evolved into one of the very best athletes at taekwondo in Canada. She is the best, if you measure it in terms of world championships. When she won the title in her weight class on May 21 in Beijing, she became the first Canadian athlete ever to hold a world championship in the sport.

Sergerie, it appears, is right on track to realize another childhood fantasy — to compete at the Olympics.

“I remember one time when I was smaller, I watched the Games on TV with my father (Rejean),” Sergerie said. “I said, ‘Oh, my goodness! How is it that they can go? What do you have to do?’

“He explained to me that they were basically gods of sports.”

At 5-foot-6, 130 pounds, Sergerie, a student at Vanier College in Montreal, is no sporting deity. Just a high-strung, personable, gifted athlete who learned early what it took to succeed at her sport. And one who has the strength of will to overcome the inevitable obstacles put in her path.

On Monday, the obstacle came in the form of her Cuban opponent, Taimi Castellanos, whom she struggled to defeat, by a slender, 1-0 score in a sport where, like boxing, judges count on-target blows to the head or body. In taekwondo, kicks or punches to the head not only count, they count for two points instead of just the one for a body blow.

“This morning it was a little bit difficult,” Sergerie said of the quarter-final match against the Cuban. “I think I put too much pressure on (myself) because I wanted to be a bit better.

“I was a bit more myself this afternoon, so that was good.”

If she had been any more herself in the semifinal and final matches, it would have been frightening. She ran the score to 7-0 partway through the third round against Asuncion Ocassio of Puerto Rico, whereupon officials invoked the mercy rule and stopped the fight.

In the final, she won kicking away, by an 8-2 count over Heidy Juarez of Guatemala.

There have also been other obstacles. Like a selection process for the 2004 Games in Athens that had her on the outside looking in for those Olympics. She had finished second in her weight category at the 2003 world championship, and was clearly the best in Canada.

But she lost a bout to a Canadian opponent at a selection tournament to determine who would compete at the 2003 Pan Am Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic which was the Olympic qualifier. So she was out of luck.

Sergerie, who moves like a lithe, lethal dancer in the ring, danced cagily around a question about whether she feels bitter over being left off the team for Athens.

“I look at it this way now, the criteria were a bit contradictory,” Sergerie said. “But as an athlete, it was my responsibility to win every event in Canada.

“I didn’t win the selection (meet) in Canada, so … I could blame it on everyone if I wanted to, but I just accepted it. It made me stronger as a fighter.”

Speaking to a Francophone reporter, Sergerie acknowledged that slight still gives her a motivational “kick in the butt,” to make it to Beijing. Her first chance to qualify directly will come at a world meet in Manchester, England in September.

Kee Ha, the president of the Taekwondo Association of Canada, already has visions of the Beijing podium with Sergerie standing atop it dancing in his eyes.

“I’m looking for gold, all I want is the gold,” said Ha, grateful to have Sergerie, a world and Pan Am champion, as a living role model in his sport. “The other athletes, they’re saying, ‘Oh, I can do that. She did that. I’m going to be champion, too.’ ”