Nick Delpopolo (NYAC/Jason Morris Judo, Scotia, NY) today won the last position on the U.S. Olympic Judo Team roster in a best-of-three battle against fellow U.S. athlete Michael Eldred (Western Idaho Judo Institute, Fruitland, ID).
The two judo fighters have been facing each other across the mats for years, climbing through the brackets and international ranking sheets, now in the 73 kg division. Both qualified to go to the Olympics this summer but countries can only send one athlete per weight division, so USA Judo created the ‘Hour of Power’ to decide who that would be.
In the final match of this contest, said USA Judo’s Director of High Peformance Eddie Liddie, Eldred had been attempting a throw called sumi gaeshi, in which the fighter rolls to his back while gripping his opponent and throwing him up and over with his leg. On one such attempt, Delpopolo swept with his foot as Eldred went for the throw. When Eldred landed on his back, the referees called it an ippon for Delpopolo, giving him the match and the spot on the team.
The call by the referees drew complaints. The decision, though, was made.
“Of course we are very excited after this match,” said Delpopolo’s coach, Olympic silver medalist Jason Morris. “Unfortunately, there has to be a loser. Michael Eldred is a great kid and a great fighter. He deserved this win as much as Nick. Nick did a fantastic job and I couldn’t feel any prouder. I am relieved the match is finally over.”
Delpopolo later said, “It hasn’t sunk in. It feels like I haven’t slept in five weeks. I can’t put it into words how meaningful this is for me. You can’t compete for very long in this sport without having a support system to back you up.” He pointed specifically to his parents, his girlfriend, his coach Jason Morris and his first sensei, Yoshisada Yonezuka.
“I can’t wait to take a few days off. I am completely exhausted, physically and emotionally. I’ve been stressed out, my nerves have been on edge all of these days leading up to this day,” Delpopolo said.
On the team Delpopolo joins Kayla Harrison, 78 kg (NYAC/Team FORCE, Wakefield, Mass.), Travis Stevens, 81 kg (NYAC/Team FORCE, Wakefield, Mass.), Marti Malloy, 57 kg (USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University, CA), and Kyle Vashkulat, 100 kg (NYAC/Jason Morris Judo, Scotia, NY).
Delpopolo is ranked number 1 in the country, Eldred is ranked second. And, so, if Delpopolo had won the first match it would have been over. But Eldred won the first match, triggering the best-of-three fight-off. Delpopolo won the first of those on penalties, then Eldred won the second on penalties. Then Eldred made a mistake, said U.S. Olympic Judo Coach Jimmy Pedro. Eldred was winning the match on penalties “until the very end when he made a mistake and made an attempt at an attack, which Nick Delpopolo countered with kosoto gari (the foot sweep) for ippon. That put Nick on the Olympic Team,” Pedro said.
The setting for the Hour of Power was the US Open, which immediately followed the World Cup Miami at the Doral. The US Open ran late into the evening.
At the World Cup Miami, U.S. Judo star Kayla Harrison demonstrated once again that she is a favorite for a gold medal in London this summer when she defeated Cuba’s 2008 silver medalist in the final match of their 78 kg division. Most importantly, said her coach, Jimmy Pedro, is that Kayla is coming off an injury to her knee and now knows “definitively” that she can compete at this elite level.
Another from Pedro’s dojo in Massachusets, Hana Carmichael (NYAC/Team FORCE, Wakefield, Mass.), took her first gold at a World Cup tournament on Thursday, securing some of the confidence for a repeat performance at the international level.
They were joined on the podiums at the World Cup by Katie Sell, 70 kg. (US Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs, CO), who took a silver medal, and Bianca Lockette, 78+ kg (Kito Kan Judo, Florissant, MO) who also took silver at the World Cup yesterday. On Thursday, Christal Ransom, 63 kg (US Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs, CO) took silver.
For all the World Cup results, go to WWW.IPPON.ORG.
Story by Ernest Pund, USA Judo Communications