When he was a judoka, Antoine Valois-Fortier meticulously studied his future opponents before each tournament. As a coach, he passed on this work ethic to François Gauthier-Drapeau, a rising athlete in the under 81 kg category.
Gauthier-Drapeau’s dazzling evolution led him to two Grand Slam bronze medals last February. Consistency being rare and difficult to maintain in judo, only four of the 28 men’s medalists in Tel Aviv had also reached the podium in Paris two weeks earlier. Same observation in the female categories.
“I expected to go far in tournaments from time to time, but I admit that lately it has exceeded my expectations a bit,” François Gauthier-Drapeau shared with Sportcom.
His potential had been known for a while within the national team. The judoka from Alma injured his knee before the pandemic and the cessation of competitions delayed his outbreak. To unlock on the international scene, he simply needed “more ice time”, as his coach Antoine Valois-Fortier summed it up in an interview.
“After each competition, we saw that he was going to seek a little experience and that he came out of it a little more equipped. It’s the job that comes in and you have to experience certain situations to move forward. François is very intelligent, he understands quickly, learns quickly and that is why he has progressed at an impressive speed. »
Naturally, the Quebecer’s technique and physical condition have developed, but the biggest improvement has come between his two ears, in his preparation and his ability to adapt.
He arrives ready on the tatami and manages to adjust quickly to the course of the fight. In the past, he was more of an impulsive type in the heat of the moment. By keeping calm, his success rate increased for each of his appearances.
“Between two streaks, you don’t always have time to think about your game plan. You have to know the situation and adapt accordingly,” said the man who is currently ranked 11th in the world in his category.
“By talking with my coach, planning contingencies and analyzing my mistakes, I developed my reflexes without knowing it too much. I no longer have to ask myself questions during my fights. »
For example, he compares two duels where he faced the Austrian Shamil Borchashvili, a year apart. Two victories that did not require the same effort.
“The first time was tough and I came within a whisker of a third penalty. This year, in Paris, I had a plan. I wasn’t trying to throw him all the time and I could control the grip to put pressure on him. I won in overtime. It was long, but I stayed in control and I was never in danger. It was an easy fight. »
The best judokas always seem to be in full possession of their faculties. Patient and strategic, they know how to provoke penalties at the right time from their opponents or jump at the chance when they see an opening. It is this wisdom that Gauthier-Drapeau wishes to develop to reach his first Grand Slam final.
According to him, “it’s coming soon. »
François Gauthier-Drapeau has noticed the impact of his strategy on the outcome of his fights.
“Before, we could have tossed a coin on each sequence to know if I was going to score or not,” he pointed out.
The arrival of Antoine Valois-Fortier as coach changed the situation. A bronze medalist at the London Olympics and three-time World Championship winner, Valois-Fortier used to study his opponents from head to toe to find out their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.
“He was a strategy-ridden judoka, completely obsessed with his game plans! He had notes for every opponent he might face,” Gauthier-Drapeau said.
Where he has an advantage is that he fights in the old category of his mentor, who was still fifth in the world not so long ago. Together they can recover the work that has already been done and therefore do not start from scratch.
“I know everyone by heart, that’s really a plus!” When you’re not super good physically like I was, you have to be reliable tactically, mentioned Valois-Fortier. So much the better if I can share this today. François has fine physical and mental qualities. If we continue to refine the tactics, it will become very dangerous. »
Barely a year ago, François Gauthier-Drapeau was delighted to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam. Step by step, he will soon consider winning these tournaments. The Grand Slam of Tbilisi will be his next stop on Saturday, then he will participate in that of Antalya, Turkey, next week.