Mar 07 Reser, Matsumoto, Gotay, Williams-Murray and Stevens qualify in Judo for 2008 Olympic Games

June 15, 2008, 12:39 a.m. (ET)
(Las Vegas, Nev.) - Ryan Reser (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) had won three Pan Am titles and medaled in Europe and Asia, but until Saturday his dream of becoming an Olympian had been elusive as he was an alternate to the 2000 and 2004 Teams behind former World Champion Jimmy Pedro (Wakefield, Mass.)

On Saturday, however, that all changed when Reser won the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Judo at the Thomas & Mack Center.

After winning his first two matches, Reser was thrown for ippon (instant win) in the final by two-time Pan Am medalist Chuck Jefferson (San Jose, Calif. / USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University).

Jefferson and Reser have fought frequently for 10 years, but as the #1 ranked player in the division, Reser had the opportunity to face Jefferson in a best-of-three fight-off.

"It was the same as the last time. I just got mad and knew I wanted to win it," said Reser who lost to Jefferson at the 2005 Senior Nationals, but came back to beat him twice in the same night to qualify for his first World Team.

In the first match, Reser, who had been tentative earlier in the night, returned to form, throwing Jefferson for ippon midway through the match. Reser started off on the offensive again in the next round, attacking aggressively and throwing Jefferson for ippon again with a kata guruma (fireman's carry).

"It was the best throw of my life," Reser said. "We trained so hard just to get to this point and now it's time to focus on the Olympics."

After eight long years, 48kg player Sayaka Matsumoto (El Cerrito, Calif. / NYAC / East Bay Judo Institute) burst into tears after finally making her first Olympic Team. A seven-time National Champion, Matsumoto won her first Senior National title in 2000. After the Sydney Olympic Games, Matsumoto assumed the #1 ranking in the United States, but came just short of qualifying the division for the United States to compete at the Athens Games in 2004.

"I've been trying to make the Olympics for so many years and I didn't make it in Sydney and didn't make it in Athens. I took three semesters off before Athens and my parents spent so much time and money," Matsumoto said wistfully. "I'm just happy, really happy."

A four-time Pan Am medalist, Matsumoto threw junior Kayla Hall (Granite City, Ill. / USA Stars) in the first round for ippon and pinned Angela Creutzberger (Ballston, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) to advance to the final against her EBJI teammate Ann Shiraishi (San Francisco, Calif.)

In the finals Matsumoto pinned Shiraishi to win the match and her Olympic berth.

"I've had my ups and downs. I lost the Nationals in 2006 to Jeanette. I won it again in 2007. I lost it this year," Matsumoto said. "But it's been a dream ever since I was little. I wanted to make an Olympic Team and I didn't want to stop until I'd achieved that."

Reigning Pan Am Games Travis Stevens (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) earned quick wins in the 81kg division by ippon against Danny Satinsky (Buffalo Grove, Ill. / Cohen's Judo) and Andrew Hung (San Jose, Calif. / USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University).

In the final, Stevens fought Aaron Cohen (Buffalo Grove, Ill. / NYAC / Cohen's Judo) for the first time this year. Although Stevens won four of their five matches in 2007, the crowd expected a close match and both players had nearly a hundred supporters in the stands.

"I'm from Washington and then I trained in San Jose and now I'm on the East Coast so I have a big group of people cheering for me," Stevens said.

The match was scoreless and went into overtime when Cohen threw Stevens for a koka (smallest points). While Cohen celebrated on the mat, the referee jury convened and overturned the call, resuming the match for both players.

Stevens came back several attacks later, throwing Cohen with a pickup for ippon.

"It means a lot to because that would've been a lot of pressure to come back and beat him two more times," Stevens said. "I was just happy [after the throw for ippon] because I knew it was official."

In the 60kg division, 2004 Olympian Taraje Williams-Murray (Bronx, N.Y. / NYAC / Legrosports Starrett) came precariously close to losing in the first round to former 55kg junior Kyle Taketa (Torrance, Calif. / Gardena Judo). Williams-Murray was down by a penalty when Williams-Murray threw him with a kata guruma (fireman's carry) for a waza-ari score.

Williams-Murray won his next match by a penalty against Josh O'Neil (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) to advance to the final against Nick Kossor (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) who threw Williams-Murray for ippon in the final seconds of the Senior Nationals in April.

"Well every loss gives you the opportunity to reflect and correct your mistakes, but I like to take it fight by fight," Williams-Murray said of his loss in April to Kossor.

This time, however, Williams-Murray and Kossor each fought strategic matches before Williams-Murray caught Kossor with a drop seoi nage (dropping shoulder throw) for a waza-ari (half-point). Williams-Murray was later given a stalling penalty, but Kossor couldn't produce a score and Williams-Murray earned his second Olympic berth.

"When I was a teenager I didn't have a grasp on how much sacrifice was made by my family. It means a lot more now. It's been seventh months. I moved away from home, my family, my girlfriend. Everyone's made so many sacrifices," he said. "Now I'm going [to Beijing] to become the first U.S. Olympic Champion."

Sixteen years after qualifying for her first Olympic Team, 34-year-old Valerie Gotay (Harlingen, Texas / USA Judo National Training Site at Harlingen) won the Trials in the 57kg division.

A three-time Pan American Champion, Gotay took less than 90 seconds to advance to the 57kg finals of the Trials, throwing Jackie Perez (College Station, Texas / Texas A&M Judo) and Janine Nakao (San Jose, Calif. / USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University) in the first and second rounds, respectively.

In the finals, Gotay fought 2007 Senior Nationals silver medalist Hannah Martin (Burnt Hills, N.Y. / NYAC / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center), winning the match on a penalty.

Two divisions were contested on a contingency basis as the United States did not qualify to send a representative to the Games in either the women's 78kg or +78kg divisions.

In the heavyweight division, top-ranked Heidi Moore (Englewood, Colo. / Denver Judo) pinned Mindy Swanson (Honolulu, Hawaii / Hawaii Tenri) in the final.

In the alternate bracket, Swanson beat Toni Geiger (Dumont, N.J. / Tech Judo) by ippon in the first minute.

Should a slot open up for the United States in the division, Moore would be nominated to the Team in the +78kg division and Geiger would be the alternate.

Kayla Harrison (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) pinned top-ranked Nina Cutro-Kelly (San Antonio, Texas / Universal Judo) in the finals to advance to a best-of-three series against Cutro-Kelly.

Harrison armbarred Cutro-Kelly in the first match and threw her for ippon in the second.

Should a slot open up for the United States in the division, Harrison would be nominated to the Team in the 78kg division and Cutro-Kelly would be the alternate.

At the conclusion of the finals, USA Judo presented the following athletes as nominees to the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team:

Women's 48kg
Sayaka Matsumoto (El Cerrito, Calif. / NYAC / East Bay Judo Institute)
Alternate: Ann Shiraishi (San Francisco, Calif. / East Bay Judo Institute)

Women's 57kg
Valerie Gotay (Harlingen, Texas / USA Judo National Training Site at Harlingen)
Alternate: Hannah Martin (Glenville, N.Y. / NYAC / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center)

Women's 70kg
Ronda Rousey (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE)
Alternate: Katie Sell (Oshkosh, Wis. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center)

Men's 60kg
Taraje Williams-Murray (Bronx, N.Y. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE)
Alternate: Josh O'Neil (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center)

Men's 66kg
Taylor Takata (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center)
Alternate: Jeremy Liggett (Glenville, N.Y. / NYAC / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center)

Men's 81kg
Travis Stevens (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center)
Alternate: Aaron Cohen (Buffalo Grove, Ill. / NYAC / Cohen's Judo)

Men's 90kg
Brian Olson (Boulder, Colo. / NYAC / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center)
Alternate: Garry St. Leger (Brooklyn, N.Y. / NYAC / Legrosports Starrett)

Men's 100kg
Adler Volmar (Coral Springs, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami)
Alternate: Brian Picklo (Mustang, Okla. / USA Stars)

Men's +100kg
Daniel McCormick (Wakefield, Mass. / USA Judo National Team FORCE)
Alternate: Anthony Turner (Miami, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami)
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