(Beijing, China) - Within an hour after 22-year-old Travis Stevens (Glenville, N.Y. / Tacoma Wash.) placed ninth in the 81kg division on Tuesday, he was already making plans for tonight's workout, tomorrow's workout and the gold medal he hopes to win in London four years from now.
A Pan American Games Champion who won his first international gold medal at the U.S. Open less than two years ago, Stevens began his Olympic Games with a first round bye and a second round match that ended in just over three minutes when he soundly defeated Franklin Ceisneros (ESA). After Cisneros was given a penalty, Stevens threw him for a yuko (quarter-point) score and later armbarred him to win the match.
In the next round, Stevens was penalized twice against 10-time World Cup medalist and former European Champion Ole Bischof (GER) and thrown for a koka (smallest points) score. Although Bischof was given a penalty as well, Stevens lost the match.
"He was really strong and he changed up how he fights which I didn't expect," Stevens said. "The German brought a whole new game plan and let me make mistakes."
In one of the day's biggest upsets, Bischof dispatched reigning World Champion Tiago Camilo (BRA) in the quarter-finals which kept Stevens' medal hopes alive as he moved down to the repechage where athletes can fight through for bronze.
"It's a new day!" Stevens said after finding out he was going to have another chance at a potential medal.
An uneducated spectator never would have known that Stevens' next opponent, Mehman Azizov (AZE), was a 17-time World Cup medalist who placed fifth in Athens as Stevens controlled the entire match from the first minute.
Azizmov was awarded the first penalty of the match and a pair of penalties for both players soon followed before Stevens threw Azizmov for a waza-ari (half-point) score.
In the final minute, Azizmov still hadn't attacked and was given a third penalty which, combined with the throw for a waza-ari earlier in the match, combined to give Stevens the win with 54 seconds remaining.
Stevens' next opponent was Camilo who won the 2007 World Championships in spectacular fashion, throwing all of his opponents for ippon (instant win).
Down by two penalties, Stevens was thrown by Camilo for a koka score, but still didn't give up, nearly tying the match with a throw that was scored as a yuko in the fourth minute.
Camilo held onto the narrow lead for the final 90 seconds to win the match while Stevens placed ninth.
"I think I got a couple bad calls during the day, but if you don't come back from that you don't really deserve to win," Stevens said.
After his last match, Stevens described the competition as being a valuable experience toward his goal to become the best judo player in the world.
"I didn't perform my best, but I did a lot of things right and I'm going to learn from my mistakes," Stevens said. "Now that I've been here, I've had the experience and I've shown that I can compete at this level."
While many players will take time off after the Games, Stevens insists there will be no break in his focus for gold.
"I'm going to go back to the village and go for a run tonight and then do a workout tomorrow. I want to get right back into training and go through the tapes. If you wait a month, you start to forget things so I'm staying through freestyle wrestling and then I want to get back in the dojo." said Stevens who plans to return to international competition in the fall with stops at the U.S. Open and Rendez-Vous Canada as well as a trip to fight in Europe.
For Stevens, the countdown to London starts today: "I'm ready to be on the top of the podium in 2012."