|Until now Cuba was the dominant force in the judo competition
of the Pan-American Games, led formidably by its all-conquering women. Brazil hit back in
style on the second day to share the main spoils but on the third day there was a significant
shift in power. Brazil edged closer to Cuba at the top of the medal table but Canada and USA
figured prominently and showed that they too have a say in the final destinations of the gold
medals. But the biggest news of all was a chink in the Cuban women's armour.
Women's under 70kg
One of the newest Cuban women to emerge showed she has all the attributes of her illustrious
team-mates by storming to gold in the women's under 70kg category. Regla Zuleta has had to
contend with a place behind reigning Olympic champion Sibelis Veranes until now but this was
her chance to shine. She took control from her first contest with a brilliant left-sided harai-goshi
coming off a circular movement to beat Argentina's Elizabeth Copes. Then she won the all-important
contest against the dangerous and combative Canadian Marie Chisholm.
That always looked like being the gold medal contest, even though it arrived at the semi-final
stage. When Zuleta Produced a second Yuko from Maki-komi and moved into a hold, she could
as good as taste the gold medal. Christina Yannetsos of USA put up a spirited showing in
the final but was simply outclassed and did well to take the contest four minutes before
penalties cost her. She was already trailing by Waza-ari from a lovely Ura-nage when her
third penalty ended the bout.
Chisholm was surprisingly beaten for bronze by Ecuador's Diana Chala. Chisholm fell behind
early on by shido and then struggled to stamp her authority on proceedings. Chala matched
her for determination and industry and when Chisholm went for broke with a running leg-grab,
Chala countered her for Ippon with a sweet Uchi-mata. The final medal was the most popular
in the stadium as Dominicana's Dulce Pina made short work of Copes. She reacted quickly
from the buzzer and took her over for Ippon with a dynamic Kochiki-taioshi. She celebrated
wildly, as did the noisy crowd.
Women's under 78kg
This was always the most likely women's category where the Cuban death lock could be released.
Edinanci Silva of Brazil has long been touted as a potential World or Olympic champion and
having won the recent Pan-American tournament in Salvador, Brazil, she came into this championship
in good form. She barely broke sweat in her first two contests as she quickly despatched Dominicana's
Leidi German and then Keivi Pinto of Venezuela in the semi-final with a hold.
Yurisle Laborde had only stepped onto the mat once before, having been the lucky beneficiary
of a bye straight into the last four. She was made to work by Canada's Amy Cotton but eventually
finished it with a lovely textbook Cuban Sode-tsuri-komi-goshi. The final was tense and
tactical with both fighters reluctant to allow the other a sleeve grip. They moved around
the mat steadily, Silva's left stance to Laborde's right. But the cagey game work wonders
for Silva who struck in the final 20 seconds, pouncing on a Laborde error to push her backwards
for Yuko - and the gold medal.
Cotton enjoyed a strong finish to her championship by overcoming German and a passionate
crowd. Cotton was always first to attack and was twice rewarded with Yuko from Maki-komi.
When she pounced on a German mistake to take her backwards for Waza-ari, she moved straight
into a hold and kept a strong grip for 20 seconds to win the bronze. Venezuela's Keivi Pinto
joined her on the podium by edging out USA's Loretta Edwards in a drab fight settled by
Men's under 90kg
This is definitely the strongest category in the Pan-American region with at least four potential
world-level medallists. But such was the high standard and competitiveness of the fighters
that few contests produced either spectacular or remarkable judo. And the final epitomised
that as two cagey men sussed each other out, bade their time and like snipers waited for the
right opportunity. But with two such similar styles, that opportunity never arrived - until
It was such a tight final between Canada's Keith Morgan and Brian Olson of USA that it
was fitting it should end in sudden-death. Olson had tried and failed with his sumi-gaeshi,
Morgan likewise with his stooping Yoko-kata-gatame but in the end, that was his undoing.
Morgan, possibly wary of not conceding a decisive penalty, came in for his low attack but
without enough conviction. Olson blocked, pounced and drove him backwards for the smallest
score, Koka, and the biggest title in this area.
The other two genuine world class contenders came away with bronze medals. Carlos Honorato
of Brazil beat Yosvane Despaigne of Cuba by a single penalty in the first round but when
he was then beaten in the semi-final by Morgan, it left both of these fighting for the smaller
scraps. Despaigne had the harder task against the big home idol, Vicbart Gersldino. But
Despaigne has the finest physique in judo and had just enough to hold off the Dominican's
challenge and win by shido.
Honorato, who was a little unfortunate to lose to Morgan when his Canadian opponent benefited
from a slightly generous and wholly decisive Waza-ari, faced Argentina's Diego Rosati for
bronze. The Argentine looked like he had few expectations but he did not fight like a man
with nothing to lose and Honorato took the upper hand from the beginning. He scored an early
Yuko with a rolling counter to uchi-mata and then forced a succession of penalties on his
opponent. With Rosati at Keikoku, Honorato scored Waza-ari to finish the contest and improve
his country's growing medal haul.
Men's under 100kg
A category that has often looked like a forgone conclusion in the past once the name Nicolas
Gill, form Canada, appeared on the draw-sheet, is no more. The mighty Gill still looks like
a class competitor but was twice taken to a period of golden score by younger would-be contenders.
He won the first with a spectacular Ippon but the second time it was a different story.
Gill cruised past Michael Barnes of USA in the quarter-finals to set up a bout with Oreidis
Despaigne of Cuba. This was his first long and gruelling extended battle but that was all
his own doing. Gill moved ahead by scoring Waza-ari with a whipping, driving hand technique.
The fighters incurred a couple of penalties each and then Despaigne hit back with Yuko from
a foot sweep. It was a close call that could have gone Gill's way but he thought it did.
With time ticking away, the Canadian gave away a needless penalty, thinking he had scores
in hand but that levelled matters as he received Keikoku to cancel out his Waza-ari. The
bemused Gill made amends in extra-time, though, with a fine Sasae-tsuri-komi-ashi of his
own to score a winning Ippon.
The final was an equally tight affair but, in keeping with many of the finals, it was a
tactical and ponderous one. Gill faced Mario Sabino of Brazil and the two simply cancelled
each other out. Although there were moments of drama, they came more from the brittle tension
than the fighters' produce. Again the fight moved into golden score, but with Gill looking
considerably more tired in the stifling heat and humidity in Santo Domingo. And half way
through, that was the difference. Gill wilted and Sabino seized his chance with a powerful
Osoto-gari for Ippon.
Despaigne emulated his brother's earlier achievement by making it onto the third podium platform.
The powerful Cuban had too much for Dominicana's Jose Vasquez and despite a bright opening
form the home fighter, Despaigne threw him for Ippon. Barnes came back well through the repechage
to face Ramon Ayala of Puerto Rico for bronze. Despite vociferous support for Ayala, Barnes
had the edge and won bronze with Waza-ari from Sumi-gaeshi.
|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)