| Seeing the blue, red and white of the Cuban national flag
hoisted time and again is nothing new in judo circles, Cuban women have been dominating the
Pan-American region for more than a decade. The only solace for the rest was that the island's
men could not match their female counterparts - that all changed on the first day of the judo
competition at the Pan-American Games in Santo Domingo. There was no need for organisers to
bring any other tapes than the Cuban national anthem to proceedings (despite one little mix-up)
as the Caribbean island won all four categories on the opening day.
Women's under 48kg
Danieska Carrion began the inevitable Cuban procession in the women's categories with a powerful
display in the under 48kg. The world championship bronze medallist had to overcome a fierce
challenge from Brazil's Marli Suzuki in the semi-final but that apart she never looked in
trouble. It was a great day for the diminutive Cuban and not even the mistaken playing of
the American national anthem in her victory ceremony could spoil it for her.
The final lasted little more than a minute before Carrion turned on the power and Canada's
Carolyne Lepage simply wilted. The Cuban came in for a poor left-sided Tai-otoshi but although
Lepage easily stepped off it, the omens did not look good for her. Carrion drove her backwards
and as she tumbled, slipped strongly into kesa-gatame. Lepage just could not hold her off
and the final had a mere 25 seconds left to run.
That was a far cry from the struggle she went through to beat Suzuki but it was the same
awkward and effective Tai-otoshi that proved decisive. Again it was technically weak but
her sheer power took Suzuki down to her side and a score of koka. Suzuki could not repeat
her fine form, though, in the bronze medal bout as she was beaten by Venezuela's Analy Rodriguez.
The Venezuelan dominated from the offset and twice scored Waza-ari with a drop Seoi-nage.
When Suzuki was also penalised to Keikoku it seemed all but over. Yet in the last minute,
the Brazilian produced a brilliant foot-weep against her tiring opponent. Rodriguez went
over backwards as if in slow-motion. The referee indicated Waza-ari rather than Ippon and
Suzuki missed her last chance by a whisker.
Colombia's reigning Pan-American champion Lisseth Orazco won the last of the bronze medals
after a gruelling eight-minute contest, including three minutes of golden score time, to
squeeze past Ecuador's Glenda Miranda. She had been bounced spectacularly by Lepage in the
semi-final with Te-guruma for Ippon but put up a real fight against the Colombian. But she
was left distraught when a penalty in added time ended her dreams of a medal.
Women's under 52kg
Amarylis Savon was the star of the day as she glided majestically and effortlessly to a stunning
gold medal. The veteran fighter who has an Olympic medal from 1992 to her name was always
a cut above the rest - none more so than in the final against USA's Charlee Minkin. The elegant
Savon needed a mere 15 seconds to dispose of Minkin with a delectable standing Sode-tsuri-komi-goshi
- the throw of the tournament so far.
Minkin had barely taken hold of her opponent before suffering the same fate as three others
before her. Surprisingly, though, it was Savon's Ne-waza that took her into the final. She
strangled Soiree Garcia of Mexico and then pinned Soribel Paulino of Dominicana and Brazil's
Fabiane Hukuda in the semi-final. Hukuda made up for her disappointment by claiming bronze
with a dominant display against Colombia's Neyla Melo, culminating in a hold to finish her
The final medal was decided by a rarity in modern judo - flags. After 10-minutes of gruelling
battle that left both women exhausted to the point of barely being able to stand, Venezuela's
Floriana Velasquez and Marlene Rojas of Chile could not be separated. Both mustered up a
last gasp burst of courage and energy to finish strongly but neither could make a scoring
mark. So it went to the flags and Velasquez was a unanimous, but nevertheless, marginal
Men's under 60kg
The Cubans were unstoppable on the first day of competition - even the men. Newcomer Angelo
Gomez, a fighter hardly known outside his own country, took on his first major assignment
with great aplomb to uphold his nation's great tradition in the sport. In the final he survived
a bruising and entertaining affair against the overwhelmingly supported home fighter, Modesto
Lara. The charismatic Dominican is a great favourite wherever he goes, but in his own country
he is idolised on the mat - his cocky triumphalism always greeted with frantic appreciation.
But this time it would not be his day as Gomez just had the edge on him. The crowd was
whipped into a frenzy when Lara stepped onto the mat but Gomez quietened them down with
a Yuko score. But when the corner judges reversed the referee's original award, the crowd
came into full voice once again. Gomez still went in front with a Koka scored with a hold
after flipping Lara over when he himself was pinned to the mat. A combination of strong
late attacks from Lara and crowd encouragement forced a late penalty on Gomez for passivity
to level the scores and take the bout into golden score. Hopes were high for Lara but Gomez
once again upset the applecart by scoring Yuko with a low awkward Kata-guruma - one of many
peculiar but effective techniques he used throughout the day.
The Spanish speaking countries enjoyed total dominance as Venezuela's Reiver Alvarenga produced
a big surprise to beat the 2002 Pan-American champion Taylor Takata of USA in just 25 seconds
for bronze. Alvarenga caught him on the cold with a brilliant Seoi-nage for Ippon. Takata
tried in vain to twist at the end to prevent the full score but although the referee gave
Waza-ari, his judges over-ruled and the Venezuelan leapt into the air in celebration. Argentina's
Miguel Alberracin added his name to the roll of honour with victory by Ippon against Mexico's
Cristobal Aburto for the final medal.
Men's under 66kg
The Cuban flush was completed when Yordanis Arencibia held off a spirited challenge from Venezuela's
Ludwing Ortiz for gold. Many had expected Brazil's Henrique Guimaraes to put a halt to the
Cuban gold rush but he was a shock early casualty at the hands of Puerto Rico's Melvin Mendez.
That left Arencibia to hog the limelight as he produced his customary one-handed sode-tsuri-komi-goshi
for Yuko to edge out Ortiz in the final.
He was in fine fettle early in the competition when he dumped Argentina's Miguel Moreno
for Ippon with a left-sided Uchi-mata. But the expected heavyweight semi-final match-up
with Guimaraes never materialised. The Brazilian recovered enough to win bronze in a hard
fought battle against home favourite Juan Jacinto. Guimaraes used all his cunning and experience
to dominant the grip and the tactical battle and leave Jacinto struggling for a foot-hold,
but not quite his footing. The sturdy Dominican was in more danger on the ground than standing
but lost by a penalty as he could never muster attacks of his own.
The United States added to their medal tally with the final bronze medal as the all too
often luckless Alex Ottiano fought well to claim his gong. He was once again subjected to
a harsh call as so many times before when he lost out to Ortiz on a golden score passivity
penalty. But he fought back and beat Mendez with Waza-ari from Seoi-nage to claim a deserved
So Cuba assumed the position it will almost certainly hold from beginning to end of this
competition at the top of the medal table with all the gold medals. Canada, Dominicana,
USA and Venezuela are trailing in its distant wake and that is the way it is likely to stay.
On the organisation side, this was a very smooth running competition, broken up into two
short and palatable sessions that kept a vociferous crowd's attention throughout the whole
day. The morning session was over before the extreme heat kicked in and the evening session
began as temperatures began to drop again. It was a pleasure from beginning to end.
|Pan Am Games 2003
GOMEZ, Angelo (USA)
ARENCIBIA, Yordanis (CUB)
CAMILO, Luiz (BRA)
CANTO, Flavio (BRA)
OLSON, Brian (USA)
SABNIMO, Mario (BRA)
HERNANDEZ, Daniel (BRA)
CARRION, Danieska (CUB)
MELO, Neyla (COL)
LUPETEY, Yurisleidis (CUB)
GONZALEZ, Driulis (CUB)
ZULETA, Regla (CUB)
SILVA, Edinanci (BRA)
BELTRAN, Daima (CUB)