Ottawa’s Tony Walby celebrates his victory by ippon over Julien Taurines of France in the first round of his Paralympic competition on Saturday, Sept. 1 in London. Photo: Dan Plouffe
By Ian Ewing
LONDON – In what was likely his first and last Paralympic Games, Tony Walby began brilliantly, before succumbing to world-class opponents and injury in the men’s 100+-kilogram judo event on Saturday, Sept. 1 in London.
Walby was eliminated Saturday evening by the reigning two-time Paralympic gold medallist, Ilham Zakiyev, in the repechage round, finishing one step short of competing for a bronze medal.
The mountainous Azerbaijani scored an ippon (the maximum score), to end the bout only 1:44 in. Zakiyez went on to win one of two bronze medals, while Walby received medical attention for a second time that day – this time to treat what appeared to be a shoulder injury.
The Ottawa judoka was clearly upset after his loss, head hung in disappointment as he declined media interviews. For the man whose motivation was to win a Paralympic gold here, finishing seventh out of 12 athletes in his class was a bittersweet end to a dream reborn.
A long-time member of the national able-bodied judo team, the Takahashi Dojo athlete retired from the sport at 35 – about the time his vision deteriorated to the point of legal blindness. But two years later, when Walby discovered he qualified to compete in the Paralympics, he began training again.
“A couple years ago, it was a bit of a pipe dream,” he recalled during an interview earlier on the day of his Paralympic competition at the ExCeL venue. “When I got closer and closer, it just came together.”
In his opening contest, the Mechanicsville-raised judoka convincingly beat Frenchman Julien Taurines in the round of 16 to advance to quarterfinals. Walby controlled the match from start to finish, despite his significant weight disadvantage. After several near-successful attacks, Walby finally got his opponent’s back and threw him for a spectacular ippon two minutes and two seconds in.
“I fought him once earlier this year in Germany,” Walby noted afterward, “and threw him with almost the same throw.”
After a couple unsuccessful attempts, he described, “I got him just where I wanted, the perfect grip, and he went in the air and went down.”
The Canadian contingent in the crowd, including his wife, 17-week-old daughter, and a panoply of other family, went wild as Walby let out a mighty roar.
There was little time for celebration, however. Walby’s quarterfinal matchup later that session came against Yangaliny Dominguez Jimenez of Cuba, who he’d previously lost to at the Parapan American Games.
“I didn’t have a great match against him at the Pan Americans,” Walby admitted, “but this isn’t the Pan Americans. This is a whole new thing.
“I feel good. I feel strong.”
The positive attitude was warranted. Over four minutes into their five-minute contest, the Canadian and the Cuban were still knotted at zeros, each stymying the other’s every attack. Just when it seemed a golden point (sudden-death round) was certain, disaster struck.
With 11 seconds remaining on the clock, Walby attacked, looking for a hip throw. The Cuban took advantage of Walby’s high body position and countered with ko soto gari (small outside leg reap), throwing him to the ground and landing all 100+ kg on top of Walby, whose fingers were in a hyper-extended position at the bottom. The referee signalled a single point as the Canadian cried out, in obvious pain.
As a Canadian trainer rushed onto the mat, the three referees gathered. After a few moments of confusion, they signalled an ippon, and the Cuban was declared the victor.
Walby displays highest integrity
After receiving attention from the team doctor and learning nothing was broken in his hand, Walby explained what happened. In a great deal of pain when his fingers were caught as they fell, Walby tapped out instantly.
But the referee hadn’t noticed. He was prepared to let the match continue – that is, until Walby told him.
“At that point right then, I was OK. I probably could have continued fighting,” recounted the veteran who is also a lead instructor at Takahashi Dojo on Melrose Avenue. “But I’m a fair play guy, and I did tap right away, so I told him. That ended the match.
“(Jimenez) worked just as hard as I did in that match, and he deserved that ending. He did get a score. With 10 seconds left, I may have been able to come back, I may not have been able to come back. But the fair thing is that I did tap.”
Disappointing finish for new father
After a terrific first fight, and such a courageous display of honour in his second, the federal government computer engineer had to be the sentimental favourite entering his evening repechage bout, where a win would propel him into a bronze medal match. The Canadian spectators certainly agreed, giving him a rousing ovation when he was introduced.
But almost from the utterance of “hajime” (begin), it was clear Walby was in trouble. The hulking Zakiyev, a soldier who lost his vision during service, controlled the fight from the start, and the Canadian appeared to be just hanging on. Then in an instant, the dream was over.
Now 39, Walby is unlikely to make the trip to Rio de Janeiro in four years as an athlete, although he is interested in helping to grow the Canadian para-judo program from a coaching perspective. But there is certainly an unforgettable memory that he’ll carry from his Paralympic experience.
“For my little daughter to be in the stands, my newborn…” Walby trailed off, finding his words. “I know she won’t remember it, but I will, for the rest of my life. To me, that’s probably the biggest thing, knowing she’s right there.”