Wednesday, August 28th

Battling in the Budokan

By James O'Brien, reporting from Tokyo

OK, first things first. In the women’s 63kg division on day four of the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, Alisha Galles will face Yu-Jung Liao from Taipei in the first round, while the peripatetic Hannah Martin receives a bye into the second round, where she will face the winner of the bout bertween Inbal Shemesh from Israel and Maria Centracchio from Italy. In the men’s 81kg division, Jack Hatton faces Marco Tumampad from the Philippines in his first round. It’s a day of intense NYAC action, no question about that.

Hatton was up first, going toe to toe with Tumampad in a contest that was aggressive from the outset. Hatton’s father and brother are both judo back belts; so, presumably no shortage of sparring partners during family vacations. This was Hatton’s third appearance at a world championships, experience that he made count. All it took was 31 seconds for the NYAC man to get the job done, smoothly maneuvering Tumampad off balance and rolling him onto his back for a beautifully executed ippon. No holding necessary. With that decision executed, Hatton’s next contest would be against Sveinbjorn Iura from Iceland, an experienced competitor on the grand prix circuit, but one whom Hatton could have a rightful expectation of dispatching.

But before that, the women’s bouts began. In her battle against Liao, the bronze medalist from last year’s Asian Open, Galles came up against a scrappy competitor who proved exceedingly difficult to handle. After one minute and 32 seconds, the damage was done and the NYAC woman’s championships was over. Not the outcome for which she had hoped, but an experience that will serve her well and, all being well, will permit her to add more laurels to the silver medal that she won at the Pan Am Open in Lima, Peru earlier this year.

Hatton returned soon thereafter, the draw pitting him against an opponent, Iura, who was clearly intent on making his mark. But Hatton, the bronze medalist at this year’s Pan Am Championships, has plenty of experience on which to draw. After four minutes of hard fighting, the score was even, meaning that the bout goes into Golden Score - overtime. As you may expect, all kinds of rules apply in the three minute Golden Score period; but, essentially, the first to score wins. Which Hatton did. It only took 27 seconds, leading him to a third round match against Vladimir Zoloev from Kyrgyzstan, the bronze medalist from last year’s Asian Games. Consider that Asia encompasses many of the world’s foremost judo nations and one may assume that Zoloev is not somebody with whom to be trifled.

But before that, back to the women and, this time, Hannah Martin. The aforementioned Maria Centracchio had prevailed in the first round, earning her the right to go head to head with the NYAC woman. Martin is among the most seasoned competitors on the circuit. An alternate on the 2016 Olympic team and a bronze medalist from the recent Pan Am Games, these are her sixth world championships.

Centracchio is no slouch, having won the Tel Aviv grand prix event this year, plus a bronze medal at the European Games (an Olympics-style, multi-sport competition, held every four years, this year’s second edition having been held in Minsk, Belarus). She proved to be a wiley and difficult combatant. Martin was consistently aggressive, but a mid-way waza-ari by the Italian turned the tide and proved decisive. A tough day for Martin, a woman as devoted to her sport as it is possible to be.

That left just Hatton carrying the NYAC’s hopes in the Budokan today, and his match was a nail-biter. The more powerful of the two, Hatton was aggressive throughout. But Zoloev flat out refused to be scored on, regardless of what was thrown at him. And so it remained through the entire bout, scoreless, until one second remained. That’s the way it goes in judo. A single, split second, momentary lapse, a half-step off balance, and that’s it. You’re gone. That’s what happened here. Zoloev took advantage of the NYAC man’s sole misstep and scored a decisive ippon with the clock a hair’s breadth from running out.

Hatton may have regrets, but he has no need for second-guessing. His was a stellar day’s work and established him all the more securely among the firmament of the world’s best. More tangibly, his performance here today garners him precious points that will take him a step or two closer to Olympics qualification.

Colton Brown is the NYAC’s man in action tomorrow. He will be contesting the 90kg division in which he has already received a bye into the second round. So, in fact, has San Marino’s Paolo Persoglia, who, has fortune would have it, will be Brown’s opponent. In the interests of transparency, I confess that I do not know much about San Marino other than that it is its own country, entirely surrounded by Italy. So, I fired up the old Google machine and found the following: San Marino first competed in the Olympic Games in 1960. (Those Games were in Rome, so not too far to travel); San Marino has never won an Olympic medal: and, in each of the last three Games, San Marino sent four competitors.

Here’s what I discovered about Paolo Persoglia: he won a bronze medal at the Games of the Small States of Europe earlier this year; he also competes for Italy; he’s 25 years old. Beyond that, I didn’t get much other than that he’s got plenty of experience. The Mouse That Roared comes to mind.

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