Well I’ve just wrapped up one of the most important periods of the Olympic Selection process. Between May and July 2011 there are nine events spread over 3 continents that count towards London 2012.
Given my financial constraints I could only pick a couple of them to go to and hope for good results. I chose the final 3 events in Pan America. It was a gamble. If I had a bad run it would mean my rivals had nine opportunities to pass me on World Rankings.
Miami World Cup
The first comp was the Miami World Cup. I drew a young Peruvian guy who I had never seen but saw online that he’d beaten some good fighters. I felt confident that if I dictated the pace of the fight I would be fine. His style was very unorthodox. He was constantly fighting off double sleeve grip and dropping for sode’s. I grew frustrated and after looking at referee’s to penalise him (instead of 100% killing his attacks) I was flicked off for yuko’s. After another minute of frustration (and 2 more shido’s against me) I ditched my game plan and decided to top grip him and try and bully my way to success. I managed to get him penalised twice but not enough to get me the win. I came out of it annoyed that I waited too long to switch my brain on.
Next was the US Open. This wasn’t an Olympic Event but is a prestigious international competition and was held at the same place. I had a tough Dominican first who caught me with a foot sweep early for wazari. He ran around the rest of the fight trying to protect his lead. With a minute to go he dropped and I transitioned into a choke and got the Ippon win. I then fought 2010 PanAm Champion Brad Bolen from USA. He is a lanky left handed fighter who held me out and won the fight by me getting two penalties to his one. Annoyed, I then had a young American in repechage (a last-chance qualifying heat in which the runners-up in earlier heats race each other, with the winner advancing to the finals) who I was able to throw for wazari with sumi gaeshi and transition to the pin for Ippon. For bronze I had an El Salvador fighter who has won some good fights internationally and I knew I’d have my hands full. After feeling each other out for the first 2 minutes I began to feel out the best grip for me to throw him and I started getting closer in my attacks. Going into the final 90 seconds we were still even with no scores and I started to really mount the pressure and work him. He received two shido’s for non combativity and I won bronze.
Venezuela World Cup
Next was the World Cup in Venezuela. This time I had a local first. It was one of the most frustrating fights of my Judo career as my opponent was constantly walking backwards and dropping (much to the crowd’s enjoyment) and the referees had no problem with it. The fight ended up in golden score where I was able to bully him to the ground and secure my favourite choke sode guruma jime (cuff choke) from half guard. In the quarter finals I had Brad Bolen once again and was doing much better, creating some good chances and winning the grip battle. However, while I was stupidly appealing for a score from a counter attack I was wrapped up in a choke and forced to submit. In repechage I had the Venezuelan number one who is an explosive thrower. I was doing my best to pin him down with two grips but he was able to tie me up and throw me with uchi mata about three minutes in and get the Ippon. I was left in 7th place with some frustrating mistakes to work on.
El Salvador World Cup
The following week was spent in El Salvador where we (Aussie Team) did our own training to fine tune mistakes and prepare for the World Cup. My draw saw me pitted against the El Salvadorian first round. It took me about 30 seconds to get into my groove and start setting up my seio nage but almost two minutes in to the fight I wound him up and finished him with drop seio.
In the quarters I was facing a Mexican who had demolished his previous opponent so I knew I had to contain him by killing his left hand lapel grip. I did this by taking a top grip with my right hand and locking him in tight. It worked like a charm because after a few seconds of trying to break my grip he decided to enter for seio nage and I countered him straight back for Ippon and a spot in the semi finals.
Here I faced the top Venezuelan who had beaten me the previous week. I decided I was going to grip fight as hard as I had to and not allow him any easy attacks. The plan was going ok, about 3 mins in with me getting 3 penalties and 2 for him. I had started making some progress by top gripping and bullying him so I did it again and forced him to the edge where he dropped for uchi mata with no grip. As the ref called matte and we returned to our lines I thought ‘beauty another penalty for him, 3 each, now its do or die’. However the referees saw the action as me being non combative and a fourth shido saw him awarded Ippon and a spot fighting for gold.
I dropped to the bronze medal playoff against Canada’s Popiel who I knew as a high intensity lefty. We went tit for tat for a while and I came close with a choke. I saw he was setting up his sumi gaeshi by skipping into ko uchi gari and then dropping off the reaction. I decided to sweep him as he skipped and secure his other arm to ensure he fell on his back. I almost pulled it off, just missed the arm and as he went down he flicked me over for sumi gaeshi and got Ippon. 5th place for me.
All in all I am happy with the progress I made. The mistakes I made towards the end of the trip were mainly when trying things as opposed to not executing strategies at all. It was good to fight many of the guys ranked around me on the World Ranking List and see that my Judo level is worthy of my ranking. I was able to add another 36 points and slide up slightly on the Olympic Qualification order.
The trip has helped me to sort out a training plan for the four weeks I have at home. Then it is off to the 2011 World Judo Championships in Paris where I am hoping to improve on last year’s result (17th.
I want to thank all the people that supported and trained with me. I couldn’t do what I did without the input and care of so many people.
Sorry for the longer than usual blog but hopefully it gives you an insight into what these Judo comp trips are like.