Of the eight judokas that will represent Team Canada at Rio 2016, one will feel easily acclimated from the moment the delegation lands on Brazilian soil.
Sergio Pessoa was born in Brazil and had lived there for 15 years, but when he takes to the mat, he defends the Canadian colours.
Pessoa moved with his family to Canada in 2005. However, his history in judo began long before that – the sport is in his DNA. Weeks before his birth, his father represented the Brazilian judo team at Seoul 1988 in the same weight class he now competes in.
When he was four, Pessoa started to follow his father’s footsteps by being coached by him and his aunt in São Paulo. “My father used to work as a stock trader, so my aunt also formed me as a judoka at Associação Pessoa, owned by them. I was coached by her until we came to Canada,” said Pessoa.
When he was 15, Pessoa moved to Canada with his family. His father was invited to coach at a judo club and the family left Brazil’s largest city to establish themselves in the small community of Kedgwick, New Brunswick. After one year, a new job opportunity for his father at Judo Canada changed the family’s route to Montreal, where they have been living since then.
At this time, Pessoa started training with the Canadian team and things began to change.
“My judo has grown up a lot, because I started training harder everyday. Three years later, I was in a good level to compete and try to figure in the world ranking”.
In 2009, he became a Canadian citizen, which allowed him to start representing the country.
Since then, Pessoa has been representing Canada in large competitions. In 2012, despite missing a large portion of the qualification period due to injury, he made his Olympic debut, finishing in the top-20 of the 60kg division.
“London 2012 was really good in terms of experience. The Olympic Games has a different environment, especially in judo. Having this previous experience will help me in Rio and I hope I can reach a great result. I feel I’m at a better physical and mental level now.”
After a long 20-month period off the mat where he was recovering from a second knee surgery, Pessoa finished fifth at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games. “My main goal was to see how I was feeling physically, since the Pan Am Games do not count for the Olympic ranking. Before that, I started to pursue my Olympic qualification.”
He guarantees that going to his second Olympic Games – this time in his birth country – won’t affect his productivity on the mat.
“Having my family and my friends in the bleachers will be nice, I always feel well with their presence. Despite it, I shouldn’t feel pressure, because when I am at the mat I focus on the combat and try to forget the exterior world.”
In Rio, Pessoa will have the support of his biggest inspiration in the sport. His father is not his coach at Team Canada, but he still has a pivotal role in his career.
“My father is always there to help, advise and motivate me. When I was facing tough moments, he reminded me about my goal and put me on the right track again. This was very important, especially in the last two years.
“In Rio, he will not be seated in the coach’s chair, but I am sure he will be cheering me on all the way and I will be listening to him.”
Pessoa understands how important it is for Brazil to be the first South American country to host the Olympic Games, especially at this time.
“I think it will be a special moment for the Brazilian population. Brazil has been going through hard moments, but sports always have the power of bringing people together. I believe everything will run really well, as it happened at the 2014 (FIFA) World Cup.”
Rio 2016 starts in less than a month. The Games will officially open on August 5, continuing through August 21. After this period, the Games hope to provide fond remembrance for foreign visitors. “Rio is a gorgeous city and the tourists will certainly be impressed by it. I think they will also have good memories about the Brazilians, who are a happy and warm people.”