(Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) - The roads Ryan Reser (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center / 73kg) and Travis Stevens (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center / 81kg) have taken may be different, but on Saturday, the results were both the same - Pan American Games gold.
Reser's a veteran with two Pan Am Championship titles under his belt and the top seed going into today's competition.Stevens was unseeded and competing on his first senior international team after earning his spot in a best-of-three fight-off at the Pan American Games Trials.
"It feels really good to have won," Stevens said. "It's kind of a relief because I was definitely afraid of how I'd do coming into today, but I'm very happy."
Reser advanced to the medal rounds in the span of 24 seconds and took only 60 seconds to win gold after throwing his first two opponents, Richard Leon (VEN) and Marco Figuereo (DOM) in six and 18 seconds, respectively.
The only stumbling block in his path to the final turned out to be Abraham Negrete (MEX) who was the only player to take Reser the full five minutes before losing by a yuko (quarter-point) score and penalties in the semifinals.
Stevens threw his first opponent, Abderraman Brenes la Roche (PUR) for a yuko (quarter-point) score with an ippon seoi nage (shoulder throw) and threw Victor Palafox (MEX) for ippon (instant win) in the third minute to advance to the semifinals.
One thing both players faced was the difficulty of fighting not only top Brazilian players in front of a home crowd, but Reser and Stevens both found themselves fighting Brazilians who also won bronze medalists at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
And again, while the final results were the same - victories by ippon - the methods of getting there were different.
Stevens fought his Brazilian in the semifinals. His opponent, Flavio Canto, is one of the biggest and most loved stars on the Brazilian team and is considered one of the top players in the world.
Stevens, held is own though, holding Canto scoreless as he tried to beat Stevens both on his feet and on the ground until Stevens came in for a throw in the corner of the mat as the match wound down to the last minute. Considered out of bounds, Stevens didn't receive a score, but Canto was visibly injured in the process.
Although he continued the fight, Stevens caught him off the grip on the next exchange and threw Canto with an koshi guruma (head and arm throw) to win the match with 53 seconds remaining.
"I really wish he hadn't gotten hurt," Stevens said. "I would've liked to have seen how things would've gone for the rest of the match."
The win moved Stevens into the final against Mario Valles (COL) who he threw for ippon to win the title.
"I was really nervous for the final," Stevens said. "He's really quick with his feet so I was worried I'd get caught."
Reser's match with the Brazilian in his division took place in the final when he fought Leandro Guilheiro (BRA) who made the international community take notice when he won bronze shortly after his 21st birthday in Athens.
Although Reser and Guilheiro are two of the top players in the Pan Am region, they hadn't fought until Saturday.
"I knew he was going to be tough, so I definitely prepared for him," Reser said.
The match started off technically with both players feeling each other out until Reser threw Guilheiro for ippon at the one-minute mark.
"I hoped it would end that fast, but then again that's what you always want. In reality, I thought it would be a hard, long, grueling match," Reser said. "He's a good player and then you're fighting the crowd favorite in the finals and it's always going to be hard."
Combined with his gold medal at the Pan Am Championships in Montreal in May, the United States has a near lock on qualifying the 73kg division for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
"I'm feeling pretty confident... Now I can focus more on preparing for Trials and going to camps and events where I can focus on how I'm going to prepare for those guys who I would see at the Olympics," Reser said.
Valerie Gotay (Harlingen , Texas / USA Judo National Training Site at Harlingen) won the third medal for Team USA on Saturday, earning a silver medal in the 57kg division.
After a first-round bye, Gotay fought Roxana Garcia (PUR) in the semifinals. Garcia was given a penalty early in the match and then Gotay scored a koka (smallest points) and yuko (quarter-point) off pins to win the match.
In the semifinal, Gotay threw Yagnelys Mestre (CUB), a Pan Am Championships medalist in Montreal , for a waza-ari (half-point) after the score was tied with a penalty apiece.
Like Reser, Gotay's final match was against a Brazilian - Danielle Zangrando who she defeated in the final of the Pan Ams in Montreal.
Gotay was given an early penalty and couldn't make up ground, losing by a koka.
"She fought how it was to be expected. We've played each other before and we're both very familiar with each other, so I knew how she'd fight," Gotay said. "I came here expecting to win, but congratulations to Zangrando."
Combined with yesterday's gold medal performance by Ronda Rousey (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE / 70kg) and Rick Hawn's (Wakefield , Mass. / USA Judo National Team FORCE) bronze medal win in the 90kg division, Team USA is on track to have one of it's most successful Pan American Games in history and is tied with Cuba for the nation with the most gold medals behind Brazil.
"The U.S. Team is improving," Stevens said. "Thanks to USA Judo, we're starting to send teams to train and compete in Europe and South American and we're getting a better handle on international players."
Marti Malloy (San Jose, Calif. / USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University ) fought for a bronze, but lost by a waza-ari (half-point) to 2003 World Champion Daniela Krukower (ARG).
In her first match, Malloy lost to Ysis Barreto (VEN) by a waza-ari, but pushed through to fight for bronze when she defeated Yennifer Dominguez (GUA) by a koka and three penalties.
Tomorrow, judo competition concludes with the lightweight divisions. Taraje Williams-Murray (Bronx, N.Y. / NYAC / Spartak Sports Club / 60kg), Justin Flores (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center / 66kg), Grace Ohashi (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center / 52kg) and Jeanette Rodriguez (Coral Springs, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami) all will compete.
The tournament starts with preliminaries at 10 a.m. at Rio Centro Pavilion 4 and continues with finals at 2 p.m.
Complete results are as follows:
1. Ryan Reser (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center)
2. Leandro Guilheiro (BRA)
3. Ronald Girones (CUB)
3. Nicholas Tritton (CAN)
5. Abraham Negrete (MEX)
5. Marcos Figuereo (DOM)
7. Eduardo Novoa (CHI)
7. Mariano Bertolotti (ARG)
1. Travis Stevens (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center)
2. Mario Valles (COL)
3. Franklin Cisneros (ESA)
3. Oscar Cardenas (CUB)
5. Flavio Canto (BRA)
5. Emanel Lucenti (BRA)
7. Francisco Ayala (CHI)
7. Abderraman Brenes (PUR)
1. Danielle Zangrando (BRA)
2. Valerie Gotay (Harlingen, Texas / USA Judo National Training Site at Harlingen)
3. Diana Villavicencio (ECU)
3. Yagnelis Mestre (CUB)
5. Yadinis Amaris (COL)
5. Zarina Bielakowicz (ARG)
1. Driulis Gonzalez (CUB)
2. Danielli Yuri Barbosa (BRA)
3. Daniela Krukower (ARG)
3. Isis Barreto (VEN)
5. Jessica Garcia (PUR)
5. Marti Malloy (San Jose, Calif. / USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University)