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2012 Summer Olympic Games Preview - Judo

By Phil Neuffer, Olympic Writer

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - One of three different martial arts to be included in the Olympic Games, judo is a combat sport with an ultimate goal of taking down an opponent and holding them in submission using a number of different techniques.

Judo was originally created in Japan in 1882 by Dr. Jigoro Kano who used the ancient Japanese martial art of jujitsu as inspiration. Kano took some of the more dangerous aspects of the combat style to create judo, which translates to "the way of suppleness."

It took a great deal of time before judo became an official Olympic sport with it first making an appearance in the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo. It would not become a permanent fixture in the Olympics until 1972 after being left off the program during the 1968 Mexico City Games. Women's judo waited even longer, not being added until the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Historically, Japan, has dominated the sport it invented with 35 gold medals, which is more than three times as many as the second best country -- France (10 gold medals).

Those trends didn't change much in 2008 as Japan took home the most gold medals (four) and total medals (seven) during the judo competition in Beijing. South Korea finished with four total medals and Brazil claimed three, although all were bronze.

Japan will again be a force in London as one of three countries, along with Brazil and South Korea, that have a judoka in each of the 14 weight classes. Japan will be especially dangerous on the women's side where they have the top-ranked qualifier in four of the six weight classes.

Russia will also have a good shot at getting some athletes to the podium especially in the 66kg weight class where Alim Gadanov and Musa Mogushkov are both ranked at the top of those that qualified for the London Games.

Returning with his sights aimed to improve for Brazil will be Leandro Guilherio (73kg), who has earned bronze medals in each of the last two Olympic Games and comes to London as the top ranked fighter in his weight class.

The United State has never been able to capture the gold in judo, but has 10 medals (three silver, seven bronze) in the sport.

This may be the year that the U.S. has its best chance at getting a gold medal with expectations higher than ever heading to London. Those expectations are especially elevated on the women's side.

Kayla Harrison (78kg) enters the London Games ranked No. 2 in the world and is also the first USA judo athlete to go into the Olympic Games as reigning world champion since current USA coach Jimmy Pedro did so in 1999.

Harrison captured gold at the 2010 Senior World Championship as part of a heavily decorated year for the 21-year-old. Harrison also won gold at seven different competitions including the USA World Cup and the U.S. Open in 2010.

She has kept it up this year winning the 2012 World Cup in Budapest, and after being slowed by an MCL injury while training in Japan in March, has clearly rebounded after taking the top spot in the 2012 Rio Grand Slam in June.

Marti Malloy (57kg) may not have as many medals but comes into this year's games with some success under her belt after earning the gold in the 2011 USA Judo World Cup as well as the silver medal in the 2011 Pan American Judo Championships.

It won't just be the women contending for medals for the U.S. this year, though.

Travis Stevens (81kg) gives the men their best chance at a medal. He is currently ranked No. 5 in the world and had a strong year in which he earned a number of gold medals. More important than those finishes may be the silver medal Stevens won in the Moscow Grand Prix, an event that best recreates the level of competition Stevens will face in London. He also turned in a second- place finish at the 2012 Rio Grand Slam in June.

Nick Delpopolo (73kg) and Kyle Vashkulat (100kg) are also both solid competitors on the men's side. Expectations are not as high for these two even though Delpopolo finished tied for fifth in the 2012 Rio Grand Slam. Vashkulat's best finish in international competition is team bronze medals at the 2010 and 2009 Senior Pan American Games.

For Team Canada, opportunities for medals will be more numerous as it sends eight judokas to London highlighted by Nicholas Tritton (73kg), who will be making his second Olympic appearance after also competing in the 2008 Beijing Games.

Tritton lost to Yuko in the first round in 2008, but he'll be looking to improve on that result to build on the medals he won at the 2010 and 2011 Pan American Judo Championships.

Also representing Canada on the men's side will be Sasha Mehmedovic, Sergio Pessoa, Antoine Valois-Fortier and Alexandre Emond.

Like Tritton, this will be the second time around in the Olympic Games for Mehmedovic (66kg), who also competed in Beijing. The 27-year-old had a better run in 2008, making it all the way to the quarterfinals before losing to eventual silver medalist Benjamin Darbelet of France.

Pessoa (60kg) is the son of Sergio Pessoa Sr. who competed for Brazil in the 1988 Seoul games in the same weight class as his son. This will be Pessoa's first taste of Olympic competition. It will also be the Olympic debut for Valois-Fortier (81kg) and Emond (90kg).

Amy Cotton (78 kg) gives the Canadian women their best chance at a medal. Cotton lost in the quarterfinals of the 2004 Athens Games, but did not appear at the Beijing Olympics. At 32, Cotton is one of the older athletes in the event, but with a gold medal in the 2012 UF Grand Slam in Moscow she clearly has enough left to compete in London.

Joliane Melancon (57kg) and Kelita Zupanic (70kg) will be able to look to Cotton for leadership as the two make their first Olympic appearances.

Melancon at 26 has some extensive experience on the international stage with four years as a senior athlete for Canada. Melancon's top result in those years was a silver medal finish at the 2010 Hungaria World Cup. In 2011, she earned bronze medals at both the Miami World Cup and Pan American Championships.

Zupanic is the youngest judoka fighting for Canada in London in 2012. The 21- year-old was a four-time national junior champion before making it to the senior circuit. She appeared at the 2011 World Championships and placed second in the 2011 World Cup Sao Paulo.

07/10 16:54:06 ET


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