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Concordia at the Olympics: ‘We have what it takes’

As a former Stinger, an alumnus and a current student go for gold in Rio, they join a long and proud university tradition
August 5, 2016
By Tom Peacock

Concordia at the Olympics Fencing for Canada "was an awesome experience," says Concordia marketing graduate Olya Ovtchinnikova, who competed at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. "When you finally get there, it feels surreal."

UPDATE: On August 8, the Canadian women's rugby sevens team won an Olympic bronze medal. Former Stinger Bianca Farella scored a try during the game.

Judoka and Concordia alum Sergio Pessoa (BComm, 13) was shopping for a barbecue at his local Home Depot when he got the big news: he’d qualified for a spot on the Canadian team headed to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Games.

It won’t be his first time at the Olympics — Pessoa travelled to London in 2012, where he finished in the 60 kg division's top 20.

Being a veteran of the Games will take some of the pressure off heading into the competition, Pessoa said in a recent interview posted on the Team Canada website.

“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.”

Pessoa’s family moved to Canada from Brazil in 2005, after his father — who competed at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul — was offered a job at a judo school in New Brunswick.

While it will be nice to have family and friends in the stands, Pessoa said he won’t allow their presence to distract him from the task at hand. “When I’m at the mat I focus on the combat and try to forget the exterior world.”


‘You have to find tricks to stay focused’

Current Concordia student Ecaterina Guica will also be competing in judo for Canada in Rio. She qualified for her first Olympic Games after earning silver in the 52 kg category at the Pan American Championships in Havana in April.

Guica also earned silver at the Pan Am Games in Toronto last summer. Like Pessoa, she was born into the sport. Her father, Catalin was a three-time Romanian champion who opened his own club when Ecaterina was five.

She took to it right away. “At first it was just an opportunity to be with my dad and my sister all the time,” she told CTV. “But then I did my first international trip as a kid and saw what it was to be around people who are really great at something they do — it’s really inspiring.”

The psychology major discussed how she deals with the pressure of competing on the world stage. “It’s actually really hard not to let the stress become overwhelming before a judo fight because you’re alone out there,” she said. “You have to find tricks to stay focused and not get distracted.”


'Her commitment raised the game'

Former Concordia student athlete — Bianca Farella, who helped the Stingers women’s rugby team win a Quebec title in 2012 and fourth place at the Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) national championships — will also be competing for Canada at the Rio Olympics.

Seven-a-side rugby (commonly known as rugby sevens) is making its Olympic debut in Rio. The 15-player version (rugby union) was last played at the Games in 1924.

After earning the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec and CIS Rookie of the Year titles, and scoring 12 tries in six matches for the Stingers, Farella left Montreal for British Columbia to train with the national team. 

“Bianca had an immediate impact on our program both on and off the field,” Stingers head coach Graeme McGravie recalls. “Her commitment to be a better player raised the game of those around her.”

Since taking the field for Canada’s rugby sevens squad for the first time last year, Farella has made quite an impression. She sits second all-time in series tries for Canada with 63, and ranks second all-time in Canada and ninth in the world with 315 career series points.

In a recent interview with CBC Daybreak, Farella said she and her teammates expect nothing less than a gold medal in Rio. “We’re going into the Olympics with that mindset,” she asserted. “We have been consistently top three over the last couple of years, but we know we have what it takes.”

OLY Mens Moguls 20140210

‘When you get there, it feels surreal’

Athletes, coaches and trainers from Concordia have been a presence at the Olympics since the 1920s. Pedro Suinaga, who graduated from Loyola College — one of Concordia’s two founding institutions — played in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics for the Mexican Olympic soccer team.

Another Loyola attendee, Warren “Monty” Montabone, represented Canada in track at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, and four years later at the Amsterdam Games.

Stingers wrestler Doug Yeats qualified to compete in five consecutive Olympic tournaments, between 1976 and 1992 (Canada boycotted the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow).

More recently, six Concordians competed in the London Summer Games in 2012.

In 2014, at the Winter Games in Sochi, accounting student Alexandre Bilodeau picked up his second freestyle skiing gold medal in moguls. Also that year, former Stinger Caroline Ouellette helped Canada beat the United States in the gold medal women’s hockey game.

“When we got to the final we knew that no matter what happened, we could come back,” the four-time Olympic gold medalist recalled after the Games. “We said, no matter what happens, we would never give up and we would fight until the end.”


‘Dedicate 100 per cent’

Concordia marketing graduate Olya Ovtchinnikova (BComm, 13) competed as a member of the Canadian fencing team at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

“It was an awesome experience,” she said. “You work so hard for something for so many years that when you finally get there, it feels surreal. The amount of spectators, the size of the venues, the Olympic Village, all of it just blows your mind when you arrive. Just the sheer scale of things is a big memory for me.”

Ovtchinnikova is still contributing to Canada’s Olympic efforts as the athlete marketing program manager for the Canadian Olympic Committee. She won’t be travelling to Rio, but she’s hard at work here in Montreal setting up appearances by former athletes.

"As you can imagine, there's quite a big volume of requests — even if our guys are competing in Rio right now, there's a lot of interest in getting Olympians who are either winter athletes or retired from sports out to events. It's been keeping me busy."

Her advice for aspiring Concordians who may be pursuing their own Olympic dreams?

“Dedicate 100 per cent,” she said. “Whether that means it takes you longer to finish school, or that you sacrifice some of your social life … Even if you don't make it, you can look back and say you gave it your all. And if you make it, that's awesome.”


Find out what it’s like to cover the Olympics as a journalist from Concordia alumna Sonali Karnick (BA, 00). Follow her on Twitter: @sonalikarnick. Follow Sergio Pessoa's journey at the Rio Games: @sergiopessoa.


Concordia at the Olympics

Stingers Olympic athletes

Caroline Ouellette (attendee), Hockey (w), 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014
David Tremblay (BA, 14), Wrestling, 2012
Martine Dugrenier (BSc, 02, GrDip, 08), Wrestling, 2008, 2012
David Zilberman (GrDip, 85), Wrestling, 2008
Cecilia Anderson (attendee), Hockey (w), 2006 (Sweden)
Delaney Collins (attendee), Hockey (w), 2006
Therese Brisson (BSc, 89) , Hockey (w), 1998, 2002
Karen Bye (GrDip, 95), Hockey (w), 1998, 2002 (United States)
Cammi Granato, Hockey (w), 1998, 2002 (United States)
Andy Borodow (attendee), Wrestling, 1992, 1996
Rob Dawson (BA, 90), Wrestling, 1992
Doug Yeats (BEng, 98), Wrestling, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992
Clark Davis (attendee), Wrestling, 1988, 1984, 1980
Garry Kallos (BSc, 80), Wrestling, 1984
Sylvia Sweeney (attendee), Basketball (w), 1984, 1976
Richard Pound (BA, 63), Swimming, 1960
Frank Shaughnessy Jr. (BA, 32), Hockey (m), 1936 (United States)
Pedro Suinaga (L BA, 26), Soccer, 1928, (Mexico)
Warren Montabone (BA, 28), Track and Field, 1928, 1924

Other Concordia Olympic athletes

Paul Levesque, (BA, 57), Luge, 1968
Lawrence Holmes, (BA, 81), MA 83, PhD 86, Wrestling,  1984, 1988
Hercules Kyvelos (attendee), Boxing, 1996
Julie Rocheleau-Beaumann (attendee), Track and Field, 1988 (Canada), 1996 (Switzerland)
Henry Hering (BEng, 98) Men’s Rowing, 1992, 1996, 2000
Rosey Edeh (MA, 02), Track and Field, 1988, 1992, 1996
Waneek Horn-Miller (Attendee), Water Polo, 2000
Sergio Pessoa (current student) Judo, 2012, 2016
Alex Bilodeau (current student) Freestyle Skiing, 2010, 2014
Philippe Beaudry (BComm, 13), Fencing, 2012, 2008
Pierre-Luc Hinse (BA, 15), Table Tennis, 2012
Sasha Mehmedovic (BA, 15), Judo, 2012
Olya Ovtchinnikova (BComm, 13), Fencing, 2008
Ecaterina Guica (current student), Judo, 2016

PLUS: Watch Great Concordian Luca Patuelli (BComm, 09) perform at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games.

Do you know of more Concordia Olympic athletes? Please let us know! Write to



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