First Nation wrestler steps closer to qualifying for 2024 Olympics

By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Windspeaker.com

Justina Di Stasio, a member of Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba, took another step toward fulfilling her lifelong dream of representing Canada in the women’s wrestling competition at this year’s Paris Olympics.

In mid-December she took top honours in her weight class at the Canadian team trials held in Edmonton. The 12 wrestlers (six female and six male) that captured gold medals at those trials earned the right to be Canada’s nominees for the Olympics in their respective weight classes.

The 2024 Games will begin on July 26 and continue until Aug. 11 in the French capital.

Di Stasio is hoping to compete in the 76-kilogram category. But first she must qualify, through varying competitions, to actually become an Olympian to take part in the Paris Games.

“That’s been my goal for a long time, especially for the past few years,” she said.

Di Stasio, who is 31 and lives in East Vancouver, is a former world champion. She won her 72-kilogram division at the 2018 world championships in Hungary.

But she did not end up winning the Canadian team trials for the 2021 Beijing Olympics, which because of the pandemic were held a year later than originally scheduled.

Di Stasio has been focused on qualifying for the Paris Games since.

She was hoping to have already secured an Olympic spot by now. Her first opportunity to do so came this past September at the 2023 world championships in Serbia.

Di Stasio would have guaranteed herself an Olympic berth with a top-five finish in her category. But an ankle injury prevented her from reaching that goal.

Her next opportunity to claim an Olympic berth will come at the Pan-American Olympic qualifying meet, which begins on Feb. 29 in Mexico City.

Di Stasio will be considered one of the favourites in her category at this competition. That’s because other elite athletes in her division from the United States, Cuba and Colombia, registered top-five finishes at the world meet and do not have to compete at the Pan-American qualifier.

Di Stasio believes the top two athletes in her weight class at the Pan-American meet will be Ecuador’s Genesis Rosangela Reasco Valdez and herself.

“I think she’s going to be the hardest opponent to beat,” Di Stasio said. “But there are a lot of other good wrestlers there too.”

The Mexico City qualifier is one of four continental meets being staged to determine additional athletes who will advance to the Olympics.

The top two finishers in each weight grouping at all of these events qualify for Paris.

One final Olympic qualifying meet will then be staged in May for those who have yet to earn spots.

Di Stasio is obviously hoping she punches her ticket to Paris at the Mexico City meet.

To gear up for that event she’s heading overseas from Jan. 9 to Jan. 19. For starters, she will participate at a tournament in Croatia, which will allow participants the opportunity to move up in the world rankings. And then she will participate in a training camp in Hungary.

Di Stasio, who works as a substitute teacher when her competition and training schedule allows, is confident she still has what it takes to achieve Olympic glory.

The fact she’s a former world champion who has achieved numerous other impressive international results gives her hope she can become an Olympic medalist.

“I was wrestling really well before,” she said. “As long as I stay healthy, I think that’s possible.”

If she earns an Olympic spot at the Pan-American qualifying meet Di Stasio still anticipates having a hectic schedule in the months after that.

Di Stasio is currently ranked sixth in her category by the United World Wrestling, the global governing body for the sport.

“There would be more ranking tournaments (after Mexico City),” she said. “But I take everything in little segments.”