When I left off, we were hiding from Jim Pedro so we could watch the judo tournament ...
We got to watch Rick Hawn fight a few matches. Rick lost a match earlier in the day, but now he is on fire. He is behind by a waza-ari in the first match to a really young player from Spartak and keeps trying a drop seoi that doesn’t work. Arkady does a great job coaching those kids at Spartak. They look deceptively young and not so tough but don't let it fool you. Arkady's boys are good! Finally, after Jim has been yelling at him for two minutes to try a different throw, Rick comes in with o uchi and throws for a yuko. He is still behind and shortly before the buzzer, he comes in with beautiful standing seoi nage and throws for ippon.
We figure Jim is going to spot us and start yelling now the match is over, so we slip out with Michelle Toups for lunch. Michelle was a very good player back in the day, until she blew her knee out. During lunch, where we also met up with the team from USA Stars, Michelle tells a little about her career in commercial real estate and how her experience in judo prepared her to succeed in a male-dominated field.
Ronda talked about how much she did not want to turn into one of those awful, cocky judo players who just are such jerks.
Michelle, very seriously, in a soft, southern accent, says,
“My dear, there is a world of difference between self-confidence and cockiness.”
Not only did we just invite ourselves to eat with the team from USA Stars, but lunch for all of us gets paid for by their coach, George Stanich (who in one of those random six-degrees-of-separation coincidences was a brown belt at the Alton YMCA Judo Club where I started judo 37 years ago).
After sleeping at the hotel for a couple of hours until the finals, we head back. Jim calls me on the bus and says he wants to see Ronda before the tournament.
USA Judo has decided to give Ronda $10,000 for her world medal, right before she fights. Wisely, Jim does not want her to be distracted right before the match, so he tells her about it and orders,
“Now, you go out there, warm up with Kayla and FOCUS. When they call you, you come get the check and get back to warming up as soon as possible. You are here to win, not pick up checks.”
When they do call Ronda up, she comes up, gets her picture taken with a giant check and a bunch of officials and runs off to get back to warming up. They ask her if she wants to say something but she just laughs. Ronda is SO not the speech-making type.
Kayla throws Jennie Bossant (is that how you spell it?) from Canada with o soto gari. The referee calls “Ippon” but the judges change it to waza ari and everyone is yelling, ‘Get on her!’ but by the time she turns back, it is too late to get the pin. There are a couple of times Kayla is almost caught on the mat. Once it looks as if she might get armbarred. The American men around me are groaning because they think she is done. I disagree, women are much more flexible than men, and sure enough, Kayla twists around escapes. Less than a minute later, the buzzer sounds and Kayla has the gold medal.
Ronda has competed in the U.S. Open five times before and won it twice. I wasn’t there either of the first two times and I am hoping to get to see her win a gold medal. Adding to all of the things that have gone right this tournament, her godfather, Dr. Jake Flores, gets to the tournament site five minutes before Ronda fights. She has Gemma, from Great Britain, who is a pretty decent player. Left-handed, good counters, including to uchi mata. Ronda had a problem with left-handers at one point but she has really worked on it and they don’t give her so much trouble any more. The match starts and I can breathe a little easier. I have known Ronda since she was born and I can tell if she is going to have trouble. (And if you think I am going to reveal her weak points on the Internet, you are truly insane). Gemma has obviously planned how she is going to fight Ronda and is trying to keep her from getting a grip. Everyone on earth has probably seen that video of her throwing Bosch in the worlds with sode and they are really fighting for grips. Ronda does go for the sode a few times and tries a ko uchi when Gemma blocks by leaning back. Gemma gets a shido for not attacking.
Ronda goes for a sode (as if Gemma has not ever considered the possibility she might have done that!!) and then switches to uchimata. She only gets a yuko. She does the sode again and switches to o soto gari and slams her for ippon. Ronda gets her third U.S. Open gold medal in a row and I finally get to see her win one.
I would post a picture here of the awards but I couldn’t stay. I had 40 minutes to get to the airport and it was 35 minutes away. So, Jake and I give Ronda a kiss and hug and haul ass out of there. An hour later, I am on the plane heading back home to Los Angeles so I can teach judo at Hayastan in the morning for our first all-girls’ class and at the USJA/ USJF West Coast Training Center in the afternoon. (A practice, where, I might add, Tony Comfort jams my poor little 52 kg fingers during grip-fighting so I am typing this with nine fingers. Be appreciative!)