WHITBY -- Kelita Zupancic's resolve to become an Olympian has been so strong for so long it should come as little surprise she will accomplish that dream in London at the age of 22. Kelita is the older sister of Peterborough Petes 2011 Draft Pick Andrew Zupancic and Ryan Zupancic who played games for the Petes during the 2011-12 season as an affiliate player from the Lindsay Muskies Jr. A.
The Whitby native followed the path of her father, Ed, a fourth degree black belt and former national judo champ, joined the Formokan Judo Club in Oshawa at the age of five, and was soon dominating competitors several years older than she was, including boys.
At six, she drew a picture of herself for school standing on an Olympic podium and at nine she watched Nicolas Gill win a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Games, cementing her notion that she would one day get there herself.
"At that point I realized, you know what, I'm doing judo and it's possible for a Canadian to make the final at the Games. Right there, I said, 'I'm going for it. I'm going for the Olympics'," she said. "That was definitely a defining moment in my life when I realized the Olympics Games and winning a gold medal is possible for a Canadian in the sport of judo."
Gill, a four-time Olympian who also won bronze at Barcelona in 1992, is now one of her coaches in Montreal, where Zupancic trains with the rest of the national team. Her Olympic goal was fast-tracked by a recent year away in Japan, where she learned from, and competed against, the very best the sport has to offer.
"My biggest sacrifice was definitely moving to Japan for the year," she said. "I left my family, friends, my culture ... I went there for a year and trained my guts out."
Zupancic locked up her Olympic berth by winning a bronze medal at the Pan-American Judo Championships in April, giving her enough points over the past two years to be among the top 14 women in the world in the under 70-kilogram weight class.
She has represented Canada at two world championships (2010 in Tokyo and 2011 in Paris) and finished fifth at the 2011 Pan American Games in Mexico. A three-time Canadian senior champion in 2007, 2009 and 2010, Zupancic dominated the junior national scene, winning four consecutive titles from 2006 through to 2009.
Zupancic will compete in the women's under-70-kilogram division on Wednesday Aug. 1 beginning at 4:30 a.m. (ET). The gold medal match is scheduled for 11 a.m.
With Files from www.durhamregion.com