Top judo fighters take GOLD, $500 purse and qualify for USA Judo World, PanAm Teams On Day 1 of Senior Nationals

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April 29, 2011, USA Judo,  Orlando, FL – Day One of the super competitive Senior National Championships served up fantastic fights, some upsets and a chance for up-and-coming stars to grab Gold and qualify for spots on USA Judo’s World Team and to fight at the Pan American Games.

“There were a lot of great battles between the number one and number two athletes in the country,” said two-time Olympic bronze medalist Jimmy Pedro, coach of the elite Team FORCE in Wakefield, Mass., one of the hottest dojos in the country for Olympic hopefuls.

Pedro pointed to the 73 kg division “where Michael Eldred (Fruitland, Idaho / Western Idaho Judo Institute) upset Nick Delpopolo (NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE)  in a best of three to make the Pan Am team.” In another fiercely close match-up, Shintaro Higashi (NYAC / Kokushi Budo Institute) beat Kyle Vashkulat (NYAC /Jason Morris Judo Center) to win the national title but Vashkulat came back to win the best of three to qualify for the Pan American Games Team.

And with two of USA Judo’s hottest fighters, Travis Stevens, who trains under Pedro, and Marti Malloy (USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University) absent from the Senior Nationals today, “it gave some young athletes a chance to shine. Harry St. Ledger (NYAC / Legrosports Starrett) won the 81 kg and Hana Carmichael won the 57 kg division to make their first Pan American Games team,” said Pedro, who coaches Carmichael.

In other brackets, Christal Ransom, coached by Ed Liddie at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, lost in the finals to Janine Nakao (Team FORCE, Wakefield, Mass.) but landed silver and qualified to fight for USA Judo at the Pan American Games. “This will be my first Pan American Games team which is really exciting for me,” she said.

In the cross-hairs for Ransom is the South American World Cup tour. “My goal is to win this and move towards securing an Olympic team spot,” she said.

Jacob Larsen (Boulder Judo Training Center / OTC, Colorado) took Gold in the 90 kg division. Larsen said of his final, tough match against Gary St. Ledger, who Larsen beat by Ippon in golden score at the Olympic trials, “I was nervous before the competition but I went out there and cleared my head and it paid off.”

Larsen said of his chances at a World Championship, “If I train hard and do what my coaches tell me to, I should have a good run at it.”

With this victory, Larsen is headed to his first Pan American Games. In addition to his coaches, he thanked Dr. Arvay of Maximized Living, an official sponsor of USA Judo, for helping him stay in optimum health. “Boulder Judo Training Center and the Olympic Training Center have both helped me a lot with training and resources. I’m really grateful for the help,” Larsen said.

For complete results, click HERE.

About 500 athletes showed up to fight today and tomorrow in the Senior Nationals, drawn by a $500 purse for gold medals in all but the open-weight senior shiai brackets (not including kata and visually impaired divisions). Athletes today and tomorrow also qualify for the Pan American Team and World Team.

For a spot on the Pan American Team: If the number-one seeded athlete wins the tournament today, they automatically win a Pan Am Team position. If anyone other than the number-one seed wins, then the number one seed and the winner of the nationals fight for two-out-of-three to join the Pan Am team.

For a spot on the World Team: The top two finishing in each division win spots on the World Team.

Competition continues tomorrow with a number of high profile fights that fans can watch STREAMING LIVE from their dojos and homes starting at 9 a.m. EST. Get online for the action at either USA Judo’s website, http://judo.teamusa.org/, or the USOC website at http://www.teamusa.org/.

Topping the billboard tomorrow are USA Judo’s World Champion Kayla Harrison out of Pedro’s Team FORCE in Wakefield, Mass. Harrison (78 kg) took gold at the World Championships in Tokyo last year and is one of USA Judo’s most promising athletes for a Olympic gold in London next year.

Also fighting tomorrow is Olympic Gold Medalist in judo and MMA-fighter, Satoshi Ishii of Japan, who registered Thursday to fight in the open weight division. Ishii has twice taken gold in the prestigious All-Japan Championships in Tokyo and gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing fighting in 100+ kg divisions. Ishii then moved quickly into Mixed Martial Arts after his Olympic win.

This year’s Senior National’s are being held as part of the massive Europa Show, a spectacle of martial arts, training competitions and even an auto show at the Orange County Convention Center … Remember to tune in LIVE Saturday.

— Story by Ernest Pund
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