(Beijing, China) - In a day in which the favorites at the Olympic Games were - sometimes literally - turned upside down, 57kg player Valerie Gotay (Harlingen, Texas / Temecula, Calif.) and 73kg player Ryan Reser (Colorado Springs, Colo. / Dallas, Texas) were among a list of medal hopefuls who were eliminated early on Monday at the Beijing University Science & Technology Gymnasium.
In her first match against Gulzat Uralbayeva (KAZ), Gotay found herself trailing when the junior player threw her for a waza-ari (half-point) score.
Uralbayeva earned a penalty, but Gotay was still behind going into the fourth minute. Known for being a groundwork specialist, Gotay had taken Uralbayeva to the mat early in the match, but it was on her feet that she won when Gotay threw her opponent for ippon (instant win).
"I knew I could throw her and was really surprised when she threw me," Gotay said. "I know it looked like I wasn't doing much after that, but I was just being patient until I got my chance."
In the next round, Gotay fought former World and Olympic Champion Isabel Fernandez (ESP). Both athletes have similar styles with both players being known for winning on the ground and through penalties.
The two athletes battled for grips throughout the five minute regulation period, but neither player was able to commit a successful attack.
When the match went into Golden Score (sudden death overtime), Fernandez double-legged Gotay for a yuko (quarter point) score and the win.
"In Golden Score, it's a whole different kind of match because there's no chance for mistakes. One mistake and you're done," Gotay said. "I was just way too cautious and I let up for a second. I know her well and she dives for the legs in desperation and that's what she did."
This was Gotay's second career match against Fernandez who she fought in the first round of the 2007 World Championships with nearly identical results as Fernandez threw Gotay in Golden Score then as well.
"It was a little different this time. The coaches and I reviewed the tape right after the match and I controlled her better than at the Worlds, but then I just messed up," Gotay said. "There was a point where she was dying and I should've picked up the pressure and I didn't and, in the end, caution doesn't win matches either."
Fernandez went to Golden Score again in the next round against former World and Olympic medalist Deborah Gravenstijn (NED) who threw the Spaniard for a koka (smallest points) to win the match in overtime.
"[Fernandez] was controlling the whole match and I thought I was in, but then she got thrown," Gotay said.
Sixteen years after qualifying for her first Olympic Team in Barcelona and retiring in 1992, 34-year-old Gotay is the U.S. Olympic Team member with the longest break between Olympic Games.
"Hopefully I can put this behind me and enjoy being at the Olympics a bit," she said.
In addition to Fernandez' loss, upsets abounded throughout the 57kg division.
On the opposite side of the draw, Sun-Hui Kye (PRK) had won every World title since 2001 and medalled at every World Championships and Olympic Games since she won gold in Atlanta as a 16-year-old 48kg player, but still felt the sting of what happens when you let down your guard as she lost in the second round to Barbara Harel (FRA) and was eliminated from the Games.
Proving that resumes aren't everything, reigning Olympic Champion Yvonne Boenisch (GER) lost in the first round to Giulia Quintavalle (ITA), a former 63kg player whose best career result was fifth place at the 2007 World Championships.
Boenisch was pulled through to the repechage, but lost to Harel. Fernandez also lost in the repechage to 21-year-old Olympic rookie Ketleyn Quadros (BRA).
In a division in which either Kye, Fernandez or Boenisch have advanced to ever World and Olympic final since 2003, Monday's evening finals will be missing many familiar faces as none of the three will place in the top seven.
Leading into the final minute of his first Olympic match, Ryan Reser (Colorado Springs, Colo. / Dallas, Texas) led by a waza-ari score which stemmed from three penalties committed by 2008 Asian Championships medalist Dashdavaa Gantumur (MGL).
Reser was not quite safe, though, as the Monogolian was on the board after throwing Reser for a yuko score and earning a koka off a penalty committed by Reser.
Reser, a three-time World Cup medalist, continued to attack and looked to have won the match when he threw Gantumur for a waza-ari score.
As the saying goes, though, "It's not over until you've walked off the mat" and Reser was about to discover this lesson the hard way when the referee jury summoned the mat team off the tatami to review the throw, after which it was decided that the Mongolian should be awarded the score.
"I initiated the throw and he finished it," Reser said of the confusion that arose after the Mongolian hit his back and Reser followed over. "Anything can happen at the Olympics. If you don't go out and totally destroy people, you can't blame it on anyone else."
After winning his next match, the Mongolian lost in the quarter finals to Ali Malomat - the Iranian player who had upset two-time World medalist Yusuke Kanamaru (JPN) in the first round. The loss eliminated Reser from further competition.
Reser's Olympic debut came after being an alternate to the 2000 and 2004 Teams.
"It feels good, surreal, to finally reach this point," Reser said. "It's tough to spend 20 years of your life training for that moment and have it end that way, but it's a great feeling to be here."