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Jan 31 JUDO: Gotay and Rousey Look for Second Belgian Ladies Open Titles This Weekend

Jan. 31, 2008, 1 a.m. (ET)
For Immediate Release January 31, 2008 Contact: Nicole Jomantas, 719.866.4732 Nicole.Jomantas@usajudo.us (Colorado Springs, Colo.)-Two years ago, then-19-year-old Ronda Rousey (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) became the first U.S. player ever to win the prestigious Belgian Ladies' Open, a B-Level point tournament in Arlon. Last year, Valerie Gotay (Harlingen, Texas / USA Judo National Training Site at Harlingen / 57kg) repeated the feat when she upset a former World Champion in the final. Rousey has since moved up from 63kg to 70kg where she won a World silver medal in September, but both players are among the favorites for a medal when 21 U.S. women compete at the Belgian Ladies' Open this weekend. Competition begins on Saturday with the U20 divisions and continues on Sunday with the senior divisions. Among the junior competitors, watch for 17-year-old Kayla Harrison (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE). Harrison became the first U.S. player to win a U20 gold medal in Belgium when she competed in the 70kg division last year. This time around, Harrison will be making her 78kg debut in an attempt to match her 2007 accomplishment. At least 13 nations are expected to send more than 400 athletes to the two-day event. Expect dominant performances from both Japan and Cuba who earned gold medals in every division except Gotay's 57kg in 2007. Japan is slated to bring two players in nearly every division while Cuba will be brining three current or former World Champions. A breakdown of athletes competing in each division is as follows: 48kg Sayaka Matsumoto (El Cerrito, Calif. / NYAC / East Bay Judo Institute), a four-time Pan Am medalist, is the highest ranked U.S. player competing in the division. Matsumoto won her first European B-Level title in November, beating EBJI teammate Ann Shiraishi (Elk Grove, Calif.) in the final. Shiraishi, the 2007 U.S. Open silver medalist, also will be competing, but look for Yanet Bermoy (CUB), the 2005 World Champion and 2007 World silver medalist, to be one of the division favorites. Bermoy's toughest challenger should be Haruna Asami (JPN) who beat Bermoy in the semifinals last year en route to winning gold. Shoho Ibe (JPN), the 2006 Junior World bronze medalist is another player with the potential for a medal. Julia Kriesten (GER), the 2006 Belgian Ladies' Open Champion and last year's bronze medalist, will be returning for an attempt at a third medal after beating Matsumoto in the third around in 2007. Other Americans to Watch: Natalie Lafon (National City, Calif.) moved down to 48kg from 52kg last summer and has since moved into the #4 ranking in the United States. Seventeen-year-olds Veronica Prado (Coral Springs, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami) and Alexa Liddie (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) are both top-ranked players in the 44kg division. Prado and Liddie will be fighting up to 48kg in both the U20 and senior divisions. 52kg Anna Palmer (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) won her first B-Level medal in October when she placed second at the U.S. Open, but has yet to reach a podium outside the Americas. Palmer will be faced with a mix of seasoned veterans and up-and-coming talent with hometown favorite Ilse Heylen (BEL) coming in as both a reigning Olympic medalist and one of the top-five players in the world. The 2007 Champion Sheila Espinosa is no longer on Cuba's National Team, but has been replaced by Yagnelis Mestre (CUB), a former 57kg player who placed third at both the Pan Am Championships and Games in 2007. Mestre is new to the division and this will be her first European appearance. Other Americans to Watch: Fifteen-year-old Chrissy Chow (Honolulu, Hawaii / Hawaii Tenri) and Colleen Matthews (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) will each be competing in her first senior European event. 57kg Valerie Gotay (Harlingen, Texas / USA Judo National Training Site at Harlingen) won the 2007 Championship in a close final over 2001 World Champion Yurisleidis Lupetey (CUB). After the European season, however, Lupetey underwent surgery, but returned to competition at the World Championships in September. This will be her first major European event in nearly a year. Two previous U20 Belgian Ladies Open Champions will be among the young players looking for their first medals in the senior divisions. Eighteen-year-old Hannah Brueck (GER) won the event in 2007, prior to winning a bronze medal at the European U20 Championships. Twenty-year-old Viola Waechter (GER) won the U20 division in 2006 and went on to place third at the Junior World Championships later that year. Other Americans to Watch: Three young U.S. players will be competing in the division. Pauline Macias (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) placed fifth in the U20 division last year. Angelica Delgado (Miami, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) will be returning to both the junior and senior divisions for the third year. Danica Kamakana (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) will be competing in Belgium for the first time in both the junior and senior divisions. 63kg Former 57kg player Marti Malloy (San Jose, Calif. / USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University) has the potential to capitalize on the success she had in 2007 where she placed ninth at her first Senior World Championships and earned a #1 U.S. ranking with medals at the U.S. Open, Rendez-Vous Canada and Finnish Open. One of the legends in the division, however, is Driulis Gonzalez (CUB) who has medaled in every Olympic Games since women's judo became a medal sport in 1992. The 34-year-old three-time World Champion attempted to step back from the fold in 2006, but returned to action in 2007 where she spent most of the year undefeated en route to winning her most recent title in September. Anicka Van Emden (NED) won the silver medal at the 2007 Championships, losing in the final to Ikumi Tanimoto (JPN). Tanimoto has been swapped out in this year's lineup for 2006 Junior World silver medalist Rina Kozawa (JPN). Other Americans to Watch: A top-five finish here would help secure a berth at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials-Judo for Christal Ransom (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center). Sixteen-year-old Emily Lilly (Camarillo, Calif. / Sawtelle Judo) has been training and attending college in Japan, but is still getting her feet wet in competition against European players. Paola Genao-Butler (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) also will be competing in Belgium for the first time in both the junior and senior divisions. 70kg Ronda Rousey (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) became the first U.S. player to win the Belgian Ladies Open in 2006 when she won the 63kg division. Now the reigning World silver medalist as a 70kg player, Rousey will be a target for her opponents this time around. Both of the 2007 finalists will be back this year. Haruka Tachimoto (JPN) defeated 2006 Pan Am Champion Ylennis Castillo (CUB). Twenty-one-year-old Castillo placed seventh at the World Championships, but lost her only match against Rousey when they fought at the 2007 Vienna World Cup where Rousey won her first gold medal in the new division. Other young players to watch include Sally Conway (GBR), the 2006 Junior World silver medalist in the78kg division, and Jennifer Kuijpers (NED), the 2006 Junior World bronze medalist in the 70kg division. Other Americans to Watch: Katie Sell (Harlingen, Texas / USA Judo National Training Site at Harlingen) is ranked second in the United States behind Rousey and won her first B-Level medal in October at the U.S. Open. 78kg Nina Cutro-Kelly (San Antonio, Texas / Universal Judo) won her first European B-Level medal in November when she placed third at the Finnish Open. The 2007 Senior Nationals silver medalist placed seventh at the 2007 tournament. Like in the 70kg division, both 2007 finalists will be back this year. Two-time World Champion Yurisel Laborde (CUB) defeated Haruna Kawashima (JPN), the 2006 Junior World Champion, by ippon (instant win) in the final. Sayaka Anai (JPN) and Laborde fought in December when Laborde defeated Anai in front of her home crowd in Tokyo to win the Kano Cup World Grand Prix. The reigning bronze medalists also are scheduled to compete with both Michelle Rogers (GBR) and Julia Basler (GER) returning to Arlon. Other Americans to Watch: Kayla Harrison (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) won the U20 70kg division in 2007 before moving back down to 63kg where she won the U.S. Open and placed second at the Senior Nationals. Harrison will be competing in her first event as a 78kg player and will fight in both the junior and senior division. +78kg Melinda Swanson (Honolulu, Hawaii / Hawaii Tenri) has never fought in a major European tournament, but earned her first B-level win in October with a bronze at the U.S. Open. Meanwhile, 18-year-old Idalis Ortiz (CUB) is the youngest member of a Cuban Team that is looking for a strong finish and, in spite of her youth, Ortiz has a strong record, winning bronze medals in both the junior and senior divisions in Belgium in 2007 and going on to place fifth in the Open division at the World Championships. Angelique Heiny (GER), who beat Ortiz en route to winning the junior division last year. Reigning Pan American Games Champion Vanessa Zambotti (MEX) also is expected to be a contender in the division. For more information, contact Nicole Jomantas, USA Judo Director of Communications and Media Relations, at 719.866.4732 or Nicole.Jomantas@usajudo.us. -END-
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