Monday, August 26th
Disappointment for delgadoBy James O'Brien, reporting from Tokyo
If you’ve never seen world class judo (and you should have - the NYAC holds one of the world’s top tournaments every year), it is quite the spectacle. Non-stop action on two mats, or more, concurrently. Let your attention stray for a single moment and you’re likely to miss something absolutely crucial. Judo is agility, dexterity, endurance and cunning personified. If you want to know more, ask your fellow NYAC members Jason Morris, Jimmy Pedro and Kayla Harrison; they’ve got five Olympic medals among them. Or you could click on the links in this micro-site, which will tell you as much as you need to know.
Fans of judo will know that the sport has a universally acknowledged spiritual home, the venue in which every judoka yearns to compete, just so that they can say they have. It’s like playing the Garden. That home is the Budokan, the site of this world championship and the place where the Olympic competitions will be held next year. I had heard of the Budokan long ago. I confess, it was because the Beatles played here in the 1960s, causing some consternation; it was deemed to be a violation of the sanctity of this shrine to the martial arts. Happy though I am to be seated in metaphorical proximity to Ringo et al, albeit decades after the fact, I’m here at the crack of Monday morning not to hear rock and roll but to witness Angie Delgado vying for a world championships medal.
Delgado competes in the 52kg division, her first round opponent being Brazil’s Eleudis Valentim, a seasoned international performer and former world junior championships silver medalist. Delgado is not somebody to be easily cowed, however; a 2016 Olympian and Pan Am Championships silver medalist, this competition constitutes her eighth World Championships, one that, if all goes according to plan, will be a springboard to success on the return journey next year.
Every athlete knows, however, that if you want to make the deities of sport laugh, all you have to do is tell them your plans. Similarly, every athlete knows that, once competition starts, it’s a blank slate, everybody is equal and you had better not take anything for granted. That sentiment is evident throughout the sport of judo; you respect the dojo (the training and competition area), you respect your sensei (teacher) and, above all, you respect your opponent. There’s an inherent beauty in that.
So, Delgado brought with her to the Budokan a powerful reputation and a blank slate. Valentim was a powerful opponent, unquestionably, and the contest was scrappy and close-fought; but the NYAC woman, ranked 13th in the world, emerged victorious, leading her to a second round contest versus Ana Perez Box from Spain,10th ranked in the world and the silver medalist from this year’s Grand Prix in Marrakesh. For the uninitiated, the global Grand Prix circuit is a white hot series of competitions in which these world clash competitors earn their literal world rankings and their allegorical (and often literal) scars. Consequently, the Grand Prix are significant and punishing. Delgado and Perez Box are familiar with both elements.
The bout versus Perez Box didn’t go so well for the NYAC woman. An early waza-ari (half point) was quickly followed by another and that was it. A full point (ippon) in judo decides the outcome. That’s the beauty and pain of this sport. A single point, and often a split second, decides it all. Perez Box went out in the next round, not that that offered any consolation.
Tomorrow’s (Tueday’s) competition will see Alex Turner in action in the 73kg division. The luck of the draw has given him a bye in the first round, so his first bout will be against the winner of the match between Thato Lebang of Botswana and Raicu Alexandru from Romania. Alexandru is favored; but, we’ve already ascertained that anything can happen.
Once the competition was over, I ventured to get on the subway, just to see if I could figure it out. I decided that I’d go to a station just a little down the line from my hotel. I approached the kindly gentleman in the ticket booth to ask for directions. Without going into all the details, the long and the short of it was that he didn’t approve of me taking the train because the next stop was close enough that I should walk. I took him to be an astute judge of fitness, as I’m definitely not in the shape I used to be and could use the exercise. So, I walked, all the while contemplating that I liked his attitude. This is the home of the next Olympics, after all.