Two BC judokas, who have been competing side-by-side since they were kids, stood on top of the podium in individual events at the 2023 Canada Winter Games.
For Raphael Gaanan (Burnaby) and Leanna Au (Vancouver), the PEI experience is pushing them to try even harder to continue their success on the world stage – all the way to the Olympic Games.
“You’ve got to dream to get the reality,” says Raphael Gaanan, gold medallist in the 60 kg male event. “I was desperate to win this because this was one of my main goals for this year. And, I managed to do it.”
The 17-year-old from Burnaby has been winning medals at other events, including the BC Winter Games and the Canadian Open National Championships. But the gold in PEI is extra special as he’s part of Team BC.
“It is really overwhelming here,” says Gaanan. “The crowd is always on fire. I like it because you feel the energy and there’s so much support for the judo community.”
Gaanan is thrilled to be at the Games with his teammate, 14-year-old Leanna Au from Vancouver (also an alumni of the BC Games), who earned gold in the 52 kg female event. “We’ve been training together since we were kids. I grew up with her by my side,” he says.
“I was definitely really nervous for my matches, so I tried to prepare as much as possible,” says Au. “But, during the matches, I was in the zone and had one goal. I guess it really worked out for me, because I was able to get the gold medal.”
Competing at Canada Games with Gaanan is exciting for Au.
“I’ve been looking up to him for a long time. Being able to compete with someone I look up to is amazing. I always enjoy watching him.”
BC judo coach Jeremy Grant (Victoria) says Gaanan and Au checked off their goals in Charlottetown.
“That’s what we expected of them,” he says. “Sometimes expectations can be a distraction, but they both performed to their potential and showed really good fire on the mats.” In Grant’s words, their progression in the sport is “inspiring for the kids and gratifying for the coaches.”
Later this month, Gaanan and Au are together again – off to Europe to compete to the Sarajevo Junior European Cup.
“It’s nice to see someone on the same path as me,” says Gaanan as he sums up his Canada Games experience with Au. “Maybe one day we will be at the Olympics – together.”
Up next in PEI: The final judo event of the 2023 Canada Winter Games – the male and female team competition on Saturday, March 4 at 10 a.m. (AT) – 6 a.m. (PT).
- Filed by Sam Corea (@sammy_sez), Team BC Communications Staff
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