For the men's team, the pressure was particularly on for the heavyweights as the 90kg, 100kg and +100kg divisions all needed top-five finishes to secure their slots for the Pan American Games.
"I was definitely worried," said Kirk Hoffmann (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center / +100kg). "Because it's not just whether or not I have the chance to go to the Olympics, I have eight other guys back home counting on me to qualify the division."
Hoffmann drew a first round bye and then went into Golden Score (overtime) in his match with Pablo Figueroa (PUR) as each had two penalties. Hoffmann was the aggressor through GS and won by a shido (penalty) for stalling for Figueroa. In his next match, Hoffmann was down by a shido against eventual Champion Daniel Hernandes (BRA) when Hernandes threw Hoffmann for ippon (instant win).
Hoffmann then dropped down to the bronze medal match where he Carlos Zegarra (PER) by a yuko (quarter-point) score. Hoffmann not only won the bronze, but avenged his loss to Zegarra at last year's Pan Ams.
"It feels great to have won. I'm glad that I had the opportunity, but I'm also very proud of how we did as an entire team today and I think it really says a lot for USA Judo as a whole," Hoffmann said. "I think the extra help from the Spectrum Fitness and Wellness Center in Colorado Springs definitely helped get me today's result. Working with their program has given me a new way to train off the mat and hopefully that'll improve my results in the long run."
Garry St. Leger (Brooklyn, N.Y. / Starrett Judo) was in a similar position in the 90kg division. Like Hoffmann, St. Leger didn't place in the 2006 Pan Am Championships and would need a good finish in Montreal to qualify for the Pan Am Games and earn valuable points toward 2008 Olympic qualification.
St. Leger, who was injured for much of the spring season, began his day big, throwing Luken Bent (COL) with a kata guruma (fireman's carry) in the first 21 seconds of the match.
"Being injured earlier just meant I felt like I needed to change up some things and focus more on my strengths when I fight," St. Leger said.
In the next round, St. Leger lost to Jorge Benavide (CUB), first getting pinned for a yuko and then being down by another yuko scores. Although Benavide committed a penalty, he still pushed through to throw St. Leger for ippon in the fourth minute.
"I'd say that fighting the Cuban was my favorite match of the day even though I lost because now I know that he moves and I've gotten to get my hands on him so I know what I need to do to develop and get better now," St. Leger said.
In the repechage St. Leger threw Franklin Perez (DOM) with a te guruma (hand wheel throw) for ippon to advance to the bronze medal match where he threw Diego Rosatti (ARG) for ippon to win his first Senior Pan Am medal.
"It feels great right now. This is what I wanted and I know that there's more wins coming," St. Leger said. "It really gives me more confidence though and I know I can do a lot better."
Aaron Cohen (Buffalo Grove, Ill. / NYAC Cohen's Judo) won his fifth Pan Am medal in the 81kg division, taking a bronze. Cohen scored a yuko on Abderraman Brenes (PUR) in the beginning of the match before pinning the Puerto Rican.
Cohen nearly executed a score against eventual champion Oscar Cardenas (CUB) after being down by a waza-ari, but didn't complete the throw. Both athletes were given stalling penalties before Cardenas threw Cohen for ippon.
In the repechage, Cohen beat Carlos Turquin (DOM) first and then, after a 45 minute break, tossed Franklin Cisneros (ESA) for ippon in less than 10 seconds to advance to the final against Tyler Boras (CAN) who he also threw for ippon.
Two-time Pan Am Champion Ronda Rousey (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) had the day's most difficult match, facing Onix Cortes (CUB), her former rival in the 63kg division. Rousey moved up to 70kg in February after winning the Vienna World Cup and Cortes, who beat Rousey in the semifinal of the 2006 Junior World Championships, soon followed suit.
Although many expected the duo to go 1-2 at the Pan Ams, the division change meant both came in unseeded and fought each other first round.
Like their last match-up in Santo Domingo, this one wasn't without controversy as a scoreboard error appeared to give Rousey the win when Cortes was given a penalty for false attack with one second left in the match. According to the scoreboard, the penalty was Cortes' third of the match, combining for a waza-ari (half-point) score for Rousey and while Rousey had committed two penalties of her own, combining for a yuko (quarter-point) score, and gotten thrown for two more yukos, the waza-ari would have outweighed all three and given her the match.
Unfortunately, the referees realized that the scoreboard listed two many penalties for Cortes and after one was removed, the Cuban won the match.
Rousey then dropped down to the repechage where she had a walkover after 2005 Champion Diana Chala (ECU) withdrew prior to her match with Cuba. In the next round, Rousey pinned Veronica Mendoza (ESA) to advance to the bronze medal match against Catherine Roberge (CAN), a four-time World Cup medalist. Roberge and Rousey each committed two penalties, but Rousey threw Roberge twice for yuko scores to win the match.
Kristen Allan (Springfield, Va. / Sport Judo / 63kg) also fought for a bronze medal, but was thrown for ippon by Isis Barreto (VEN). Earlier in the day, Allan beat Nadjeda Gena (HAI) on penalties and choked out Irene Figoli (URU) to advance to the semifinal where she was thrown for ippon by former World Champion Daniela Krukower (ARG). Allan placed fifth overall in her first Pan Am Championships.
Adler Volmar (Coral Springs, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami) finished fifth in the men's 100kg division. After a first-round bye, Volmar threw Teofilo Diek (DOM) for ippon in the quarter-finals. In the semifinals, though, Leonardo Liete (BRA) won the match, sending Volmar into the repechage. In the bronze medal match, Volmar seemed headed for Golden Score after a shido apiece with Keith Morgan (CAN) when Morgan threw him for ippon with seven seconds left.
Fifteen-year-old Marina Lambert (Chesapeake, Va. / Washington Judo) placed fifth in the 78kg division, but lost both of her matches in the process, getting thrown by Lorena Briceno (ARG) with a sumi gaeshi (sacrifice throw) for ippon first and then again by Marylise Levesque (CAN) in the bronze medal match.
Brittni Bradford (Live Oak, Texas / Universal Judo) went 0-1 in the +78kg division where she got pinned for ippon by Mabel Henriquez (DOM).
Competition continues tomorrow in the women's 44kg, 48kg, 52kg, 57kg and Open divisions and the men's 55kg, 60kg, 66kg and 73kg divisions.
Complete results are as follows:
1. Driulis Conzales (CUB)
2. Daniela Krukower (ARG)
3. Isis Barreto (VEN)
3. Jessica Garcia (PUR)
5. Kristen Allan (Springfield, Va. / Sport Judo)
5. Danielli Yuri (BRA)
1. Yuri Alvear (COL)
2. Mayra Aguiar (BRA)
3. Ronda Rousey (Wakefield, Mass. / USA Judo National Team FORCE)
3. Onix Cortes (CUB)
5. Catherine Roberge (CAN)
5. Maria Perez (PUR)
1. Edinanci Silva (BRA)
2. Yurisel Laborde (CUB)
3. Marylise Levesque (CAN)
3. Lorena Briceno (ARG)
5. Marina Lambert (Chesapeake, Va. / Washington Judo)
5. Mirla Nolberto (GUA)
1. Ivis Duenas (CUB)
2. Melissa Mojica (PUR)
3. Carmen Chala (ECU)
3. Vanessa Zambotti (MEX)
5. Priscilla Marquez (BRA)
5. Giovanna Blanco (VEN)
Also Competed: Brittni Bradford (Live Oak, Texas / Universal Judo), 0-1
1. Oscar Cardenas (CUB)
2. Emmanuel Lucenti (ARG)
3. Aaron Cohen (Buffalo Grove, Ill. / NYAC / Cohen's Judo)
3. Mario Valles (COL)
5. Tyler Boras (CAN)
5. Flavio Canto (BRA)
1. Tiago Camilo (BRA)
2. Jose Camacho (VEN)
3. Garry St. Leger (Brooklyn, N.Y. / Starrett Judo)
3. Jorge Benavide (CUB)
5. Diego Rosatti (ARG)
5. Javier Terra (URU)
1. Ordeis Despaine (CUB)
2. Leandro Leite (BRA)
3. Keith Morgan (CAN)
3. Teofilo Diek (DOM)
5. Adler Volmar (Coral Springs, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami)
5. Albenis Rosales (VEN)
1. Daniel Hernandez (BRA)
2. Oscar Bryson (CUB)
3. Kirk Hoffmann (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center)
3. Joel Brutus (HAI)
5. Carlos Segarra (PER)
5. Jose Vasquez (DOM)