US Olympic Judo Team 2012: Updated News & Analysis for America's Squad
After securing just one bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games—Ronda Rousey's middleweight bronze was the first piece of hardware in U.S. women's history—Team USA has nowhere to go but up in the 2012 Games.
The national squad hopes to once again make history in London, with eyes set on multiple medals, including the tantalizing possibility of Gold No. 1—never before has the United States captured the top prize in the sport traditionally dominated by Japan.
Judo has been a medal-producing Olympic sport since 1964 for men and 1992 for women, so snapping the 58-year goldless streak would be huge for the Americans.
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To help get Team USA back to the judo podium, the national judo program has recruited the very best athletes.
Key pieces include:
Kayla Harrison (Pictured)
Since coming onto the adult international circuit following the 2008 Games, 21-year-old Kayla Harrison has impressed and restored hopes of a U.S. Olympic gold.
Harrison shocked the world in 2010, winning the women's half-heavyweight gold at the World Judo Championships in Japan followed by a 2011 bronze in Paris and gold during the Pan American Judo Championships in Guadalajara (2011).
Harrison is the United States' best shot to make history by taking the first gold medal in the history of the national Olympic program.
Another Team USA youngster, Nick Delpopolo will hope to shock the judo world in July as he stands an outside shot at crashing an Olympic finals or bronze medal match.
If Harrison is all-buzz to take the women's gold, Delpopolo will hope to sneak in with the men's. Competing in the 73-kilogram event, Delpopolo will be the lightest American male in London, though his chances of capturing the prize might weight heaviest.
Since 2008, Stevens has won Pan American bronze in San Salvador (2010) and silver one year later. He will hope that like Harrison's Guadalajara gold, his silver success will translate to an Olympic medal.
Other Key Pieces
The United States will also field Marti Malloy (57-kilogram) and Kyle Vashkulat (100).
US Chances and Challengers in London
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If the United States is to capture its first gold, it will have to run through—or over—Japan.
Judo star Yang Xiuli of China won the 2008 women's 78-kilogram event, a significant fact even though Yang herself will not be competing in London. Instead, the Olympic champion has become a critical training test for American Kayla Harrison.
For her part, Harrison made a point of going to the Grand Prix in China and Grand Slam in Tokyo just to get a taste at what gold-level feels like.
"The point of going to those tournaments was to get my hands on her because she's the Olympic champion and I had never fought her in a competition," she said.
The new top dogs in the 78 division are Japan's Akari Ogata and world No. 1 Mayra Aguiar of Brazil. Either foe could defeat Harrison, though U.S. Olympic coach Jimmy Pedro holds out high hopes for Harrison's chances: "Kayla's ready to fight anybody, anytime."
Let's hope that time is comes this year in London.
When to Watch
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When: Both the men's and women's judo competition will kick off on July 28 at 4:30 a.m. Eastern Time, with the men's 60-kilogram and women's 48 bronze scheduled for that very same day at 9:00 a.m ET, followed by the men's and women's gold medal final in the 60 and 48, respectively, at about 11 a.m. ET. The competition continues through Aug. 3 with multiple medals awarded each day.
The competition runs from lightest to heaviest weight class, which means the U.S. team's best shot at gold—Kayla Harrison—will compete later in the competition, on Aug. 2. The women's 78-kilogram bronze finals are scheduled that day, with the gold final immediately thereafer.
Venue Information: The ExCeL Exhibition Centre—ExCeL stands for Exhibition Centre London—will feature the judo competition of the XXX Olympiad. Located on the London Docklands between Canary Wharf and the London City Airport, the ExCeL will also host boxing, fencing, taekwondo, table tennis, weightlifting and wrestling.
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Though Japan will likely capture the greatest medal tally, this is Team USA's year to shine.
Though Kayla Harrison will have a tough challenge in trying for her first gold, the youngster will still land on the medal podium—the only question is, where?
Expect at least a silver from Harrison, while men's athlete Nick Delpopolo sneaks in with a surprise bronze.