Thursday, August 29th
Great ThingsBy James O'Brien, reporting from Tokyo
This is the fifth day of competition at the World Judo Championships, in Japan’s temple of martial arts, the Tokyo Budokan. This is the final day of competition, however, for the NYAC’s judokas, with Colton Brown stepping on to the mats this morning in the 90kg division. (Kelita Zupancic was also scheduled to compete today, but withdrew due to injury prior to the start of the tournament). As noted yesterday, Brown has received a bye into the second round, where he will face San Marino’s Paolo Persiglia. Taking nothing for granted, if Brown wins that contest, his next bout will be against the winner of the throw-down between Milan Randl (Slovakia) and Islam Bozbayev (Kazakstan). For the record, Bozbayev is ranked #12 in the world; Randl is #40; Brown is #30. That’s what you call interesting.
Something else interesting, though ostensibly unrelated, occurs to me as I sit here awaiting Brown’s competition: I have been in plenty of stadia in plenty of countries over a plentiful span of time, but the Budokan is the first I have experienced that contains zero food concessions. Nothing. You can find every conceivable questionably designed T-shirt, but no food. A few vending machines with cold drinks, sure; but that’s it. I have to question if that business model will be wise when the hungry Olympic hoards descend on Tokyo next year.
But back to more important matters, and a few snippets about Colton Brown: he’s a 2016 Olympian; this is his third world championships; and he is coached by NYAC judo legend, world champion and two-time Olympic medalist, Jimmy Pedro. If there’s something about judo that Pedro does not know, that’s because it’s not worth knowing. One may presume that Pedro passes much of that knowledge to Brown, and his many other charges, on a daily basis. Brown’s job, then, is to translate that acquired knowledge into tangible results at major tournaments around the world, most significantly, here and today. Which he did, perfunctorily, if that’s not too harsh. The Sammarinese Persiglia (yes, I googled) came out hard and showed no signs of being intimidated, but Brown simply got the job done with one minute and 29 seconds expired. Thus, it was on to a clash with Bozbayev, the world #12 who had taken a mere 16 seconds to dispose of Randl in his opener. Uh-oh.
As I’ve said more than once herein, once the bout begins, it’s all a blank slate. That’s the way Brown went at it, with all to gain and nothing to lose. It was untidy, with little between the two combattants; but, with just 16 seconds remaining, Brown turned the tide and claimed the spot in the next round.
Interestingly, the contest prior to Brown’s had been an out and out war between Nikoloz Sherazadishvili from Spain, the defending champion, and Axel Clerget from France, the 2018 bronze medalist. This was a maul on the mats unlike any seen thus far is the tournament. The speed, agility and aggressions were at another level, explaining, presumably, why these two are world championships’ medalists. The outcome went in favor of Clerget, who was exhausted but elated and whose next opponent was….yes, indeed - Colton Brown.
How Clerget could remain upright let alone do it all one more time was remarkable and a testimony to the strength of all of these athletes. Not only did the Frenchman remain upright, he prevailed in stunning fashion. It took just 40 seconds, but Clerget saw his opening and pounced, scoring ippon and dispatching Brown from the championships. It was a valiant tournament for Brown, nonetheless, having made it to the last 16 in white-hot competition. Not insignificant, it also garners him important points, advancing his global ranking and his Olympic aspirations.
Which, truth be told, is what it’s all about. The World Championships are enormously significant and, in many sports, including judo, more challenging than the Olympic Games. But it is the latter that is the truly global stage and the cauldron in which all athletes hunger to excel.
So it is with all of the NYAC’s judokas who traveled to Tokyo to represent the USA in the these championships. They all fought bravely and well, they all met with mixed fortunes, and they all hunger to be back here in this self-same arena next year. Of a certainty, the hopes, good wishes and encouragement of the New York Athletic Club will be right here with them.
Great things are expected and, most often, achieved.