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Delpopolo Makes US Olympic Team
May 18, 2012
Miami, FL 23 year old Nick Delpopolo put an exclamation mark on his already incredible life story as the Serbian native who was adopted out of an Orphanage at age 2 won a spot on the US Olympic Judo team on Saturday May 12th.
Delpopolo has been ranked in the top 16 in the World for the last 3 years and the International Judo Federation has a World Ranking list in which the top 22 players in the world are selected for the Olympic Games. Delpopolo was forced to fight off his long time rival Michael Eldred for the spot as Eldred is ranked 26th in the World but a rule made by USA Judo declared that if two players are ranked inside of the top 22 they must fight off for the spot. Eldred makes it into the top 22 after the removal of “Double Countries” which are Countries that have more than 1 player inside the top 22 as only 1 representative from each Nation is allowed to compete.
USA Judo invented the “Hour of Power” at the Miami World Cup May 10-12th to hold an Olympic trials for Delpopolo and Eldred. The other 4 members of the 5 Olympians USA Judo will have in London were determined 2 weeks earlier after the conclusion of the Pan American Championships. Delpopolo had protection as the higher player on the World Ranking list, needing only to win the first match with Eldred to be on the team. If he were to lose he would then enter in a best 2 out of 3 fight off with Eldred meaning the two could fight up to 4 times on the day. The tournament was stopped at promptly 2pm and the entire crowd as well as several News reporters and photographers were treated to a battle of the titans as Delpopolo needed the full 4 matches to earn his spot on the Olympic Team.
Delpopolo and Eldred have been fighting since Nick was 17 years old and Michael went into the Olympic Trials with a 10-7 record over Nick. Out of Eldreds 10 wins over Nick he has only beaten Delpopolo twice by ippon compared to 6 out of 7 ippon wins for Nick over Michael. On the flip side 5 of their matches have gone into over time with Eldred carrying a 4-1 record over Delpopolo in OT. 4 of their matches have come to a referee’s decision with both standing at 2-2.
Round 1 saw the two men unable to produce a score sending the match into a nail biting over time period. Eldred caught Delpopolo with Sumi-gaeshi a sacrafice throw for yuko to win the fight. Michaels win allowed him to proceed to a separate best of 3 match up with Nick and the pressure was on. Delpopolo dominated the first match of the fight off winning 2 penalties to none and the pressure was back on Eldred as the next match would be a must win scenario for him in order to send it to a third and deciding fight. The second match started slowly with both players unable to stay in bounds or on their feet for very long. Delpopolo was hit with two quick penalties with less than 1 minute remaining in the match and Eldred walked away with the victory. The audience was whipped into a frenzy and were very vocally screaming for both players. Match 4 started after the players were both awarded a 15 minutes rest period. Eldred found himself up by 2 penalties to 1 as he was able to constantly maintain good positioning. With 1:28 left in the fight Eldred crossed gripped Delpopolo’s gi and came in uchimata to which Delpopolo promptly hooked his leg and stepped over Michaels attack countering him for ippon and the win. Some people in the crowd argued that Eldred was attempting an attack and that it should not have been a score for Delpopolo which caused the referee’s to convene in the center of the mat to discuss the throw. This prompted the majority of the crowd to start chanting “Ippon, ippon, ippon” and before the referee’s could walk over to the Jury the Jury stood up and called ippon signifying that they had already video reviewed the call and agreed that Delpopolo countered Eldred’s Uchimata.
Delpopolo was awarded the win an a spot on the Olympic Team and as he met Michael in the Center of the mat the two hugged each other and consoled and congratulated each other simultaneously. Eldred wished Delpopolo the best of luck in London and told him that he would help him train and prepare for the event. Delpopolo in turn told Eldred that he wished they both could go and he never would have made this team if Michael wasn’t pushing him so hard.
After he walked into the back room Nick collapsed on the floor and was sobbing and surrounded by family and friends trying to congratulate him. Delpopolo stood up and jumped into the arms of his Coach Jason Morris and said “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you”.
“Of course we are very excited after this match,” said Morris, who is an Olympic silver medalist. “Unfortunately, there has to be a loser. Michael Eldred is a great kid and a great fighter. He deserved this win as much as Nick. Nick did a fantastic job and I couldn’t feel any prouder. I am relieved the match is finally over.”
Delpopolo went out to dinner with his biggest fans: The Irons family, his girlfriend Carrie and his sponsor and owner of RAW Health International, Ross Marino. When asked how he felt Nick had this to say, “It hasn’t sunk in. It feels like I haven’t slept in five weeks. I can’t put it into words how meaningful this is for me. You can’t compete for very long in this sport without having a support system to back you up.” He pointed specifically to his parents, his girlfriend, his coach Jason Morris and his first sensei, YoshisadaYonezuka. “I can’t wait to take a few days off. I am completely exhausted, physically and emotionally. I’ve been stressed out, my nerves have been on edge all of these days leading up to this day,” Delpopolo continued. “I would like to thank my sponsors Hatashitasports.com and The New York Athletic Club for all of their support these last 4 years.” said Nick “If the NYAC hadn’t been there for me financially there is no way I would have been on this team, They have been the biggest supporters of me and I can’t find the words to thank them enough.”
If you would like to donate to Nick Delpopolo and become a part of his Olympic Journey please visit www.nickdelpopolo.com