Taekwondo gold. Quebecer captures Canada's first title


by ARPON BASU, Freelance
Published: Friday, May 25, 2007

Going into the lightweight semifinal of the World Taekwondo Championships in Beijing, Karine Sergerie was wracked with doubt, a little voice in her head continuously asking her: "What if you lose?" It was a fair question, considering Sergerie's past heartbreaks at the world's premier taekwondo event.

In 2003, Sergerie won a silver medal, yet was denied a trip to Athens the following year with the Canadian Olympic team because of a technicality.

In 2005, Sergerie lost in the semifinal and came home with a bronze medal, leaving her with a sick feeling that she was able to draw upon this time around in Beijing as she prepared for her semifinal bout against Norway's Mona Solheim.

"What motivated me was the past worlds, the bronze medal," Sergerie, 22, said at her Ste. Catherine home yesterday. "I was really bitter after that and I didn't want it to happen again."

Sergerie made sure it didn't, easily dispatching Solheim in the semis before a dramatic, sudden-death win on Monday in the final over South Korea's Park Hye-Mi gave her Canada's first gold medal at the event ever.

For Sergerie, the victory was not only vindication for missing her goal twice before, it was a major boost to a sport that sorely needs it in this country.

"I'm happy to have won," said Sergerie, who was The Gazette's Amateur Athlete of the Week in April 2004. "But it's also a victory for the country, for everyone who does the sport, and for the sport itself."

Sergerie blames a lack of mental toughness, and nothing more, for her previous bronze and silver medals at the worlds. Though most people would be more than satisfied with those results, Sergerie was convinced she could have done more if only she had more of a mental edge.

This time, before leaving for China, Sergerie visited with sports psychologist Bruno Ouellette to tone up her mental strength. It's a good thing she did, because she needed it.

After winning her semifinal bout, Sergerie watched Nia Abdallah of the U.S. take on Park in the other semifinal and found herself cheering for the American, not only because of the geographic proximity of Canada and the U.S., but also because Sergerie had never before defeated anyone from the powerhouse South Korean team.

"But then I changed my mind, I wanted the Korean to win," Sergerie said. "I wanted to see if I'd actually gotten past that mental block. I had a beef to settle."

The mental block appeared to still be in place through the first two rounds of the final bout as Sergerie fell behind 3-0 to Park with only one round to go.

Sergerie's father and coach, Rejean, wasn't allowed to go to China with his daughter, so between rounds, she was getting advice from coach Alain Bernier, who begged Sergerie to remain patient and wait for her chances.

That's exactly what she did, scoring three unanswered points in the final round to tie the score before scoring first in sudden death to win the gold medal.

Sergerie says that in the past she would have run at her opponent in that final round in a mad dash to score, and it probably would have cost her the match.

"I think I've matured as an athlete. I was able to stay calm and I didn't panic," she said. "In the past, I wouldn't have listened to my coach. I would have panicked."

Sergerie's father was not only proud of his star pupil, but also the other Quebecers who shone at the event, like bronze medallist Sebastien Michaud of Quebec City, who claimed Canada's first men's medal in 13 years. Montrealers Jean-Francois Lebreux and Jocelyn Addison were also impressive, with top-eight and top-16 finishes, respectively.

After being disappointed with being left at home in 2004, it would appear Sergerie is a lock to represent Canada in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics next year. In order to guarantee a spot, she will have to finish in the top four at the Olympic qualifier in Manchester, England, in September.

But, unfortunately, her past history with the Olympic team has made Sergerie a bit of a skeptic.

"The thing I learned from the last Olympics is that things change," she said. "But, obviously, things are looking pretty good right now."

In fact, they've never looked better.

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2007