JUDO: International Contingent to Compete at New York Open On Sunday

March 08, 2008, 1 a.m. (ET)
For Immediate Release March 7, 2008 Contact: Nicole Jomantas, 719.271.9937 (cell) Nicole.Jomantas@usajudo.us (Colorado Springs, Colo.)-Nearly 150 athletes from 20 nations are expected to compete at the New York Open-one of the premier international tournaments for male athletes-on Sunday. The tournament will be held at the New York Athletic Club, 180 Central Park South, in New York City. The tournament will begin with preliminary competition for the 60kg, 100kg and +100kg divisions at 8 a.m. Preliminary competition for the 66kg, 73kg, 81kg and 90kg divisions will start no earlier than 9:30 a.m. Medal matches will begin at approximately 5 p.m. This year's competition will include nearly all of the top men in the U.S. as well as teams from countries including Brazil, Canada, Germany, France, Japan and Great Britain. Among the seven-person Brazilian team are reigning World Champion Luciano Correa (100kg), 2007 World bronze medalist Joao Schlittler (+100kg) and 2004 Olympic medalist Leandro Guilheiro (73kg). A preview of the divisions being contested is as follows: 60kg Athens Olympian Taraje Williams-Murray (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) is the defending Champion in the division who made last year's event his coming out party after spending 2006 fighting up to 66kg. Among his victories, Williams-Murray defeated Sergio Pessoa Jr. (CAN) , the 2007 Belgium Open Champion who will be back again this year. Among the U.S. athletes to watch for, 18-year-old Aaron Kunihiro (Wakefield, Mass. / USA Judo National Team FORCE) could make an appearance in the medal rounds. Kunihiro and Williams-Murray will be on opposite sides of the draw, but have only fought once with Williams-Murray taking the win at the Senior Nationals in 2007. Nick Kossor (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center), who placed second behind Williams-Murray at the Senior Nationals, also should be on Kunihiro's side of the draw. The two fought most recently at the Pedro's Challenge with Kunihiro winning both matches in overtimes. 60kg Leandro Cunha (BRA), the 2007 Paris Super World Cup silver medalist, is the favorite in a division where reigning National Champion Justin Flores (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) is the top seed due to his U.S. ranking. Flores sat last year's event out with an injury, but fought Cunha at the Pan Am Championships where the match went for five minutes before Flores lost on points. Other players to watch include Gregory Grangier (FRA), the 2007 Belgium Open silver medalist, and three-time National Champion Dominik Liebl (GER). 73kg Likely the division with the most all-around depth at this year's event, 73kg includes a cast of characters who all could be found in the medal rounds. The top seed will go to Michael Eldred (Fruitland, Idaho / Western Idaho Judo Institute). Although Eldred is still young, he was one of the most consistent players in 2007, winning five international medals. Two-time Pan Am Champion Chuck Jefferson (San Jose, Calif. / USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University) won here in 2002 and will be on the opposite side of the bracket from Eldred. Jefferson placed fifth at the 2007 Open, losing a close match to Tomasz Krecielewski (POL) who, like Jefferson, is a 2007 German Open bronze medalist and will be competing again this year. Last year's New York Open Champion, Toni Lettner (GER), who also defeated Jefferson in 2007, will be back to defend his title. Gennadiy Bilodid (UKR), a 2005 World Championships bronze medalist, and Leandro Guilheiro (BRA), a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist, also will be among the favorites. Three-time World Cup medalist Nick Tritton (CAN) has never won the New York Open, but a fifth-place finish at the Hamburg Super World Cup in February showed that perhaps this could be his year. 81kg Five-time Pan Am medalist Aaron Cohen (Buffalo Grove, N.Y. / NYAC / Cohen's Judo) is the reigning Champion in this division and won all four of his matches by ippon (instant win) in 2007. One of Cohen's biggest opponents will be #1 seed Travis Stevens (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center), the 2007 Pan American Games Champion. Cohen and Stevens fought five times with Stevens earning four wins, but all of the matches have been closely contested and frequently go a full five minutes or into Golden Score. Also watch for Tom Reed (GBR), the 2007 European U-23 Championships silver medalist, and Tyler Boras (CAN), the 2006 Pan American Championships silver medalist. Reed lost to Cohen at the 2007 Swiss Open, but beat Stevens in November at the Sweden Open. Both Stevens and Cohen beat Boras in 2007, but the Canadian is a former U.S. Open Champion who could return to the podium in New York for the first time since 2003. Jonathan Schneider, the 2008 Belgium Open silver medalist, is one of several French players who will be strong competitors as well. 90kg Rick Hawn (Wakefield, Mass. / USA Judo National Team FORCE), the top seed in the division, made his international debut at 90kg last year at the New York Open where he placed second. This time, expect Hawn to be challenged by both 2006 Pan American Champion Hugo Pessanha (BRA) as well as 2007 Pan Am medalist Garry St. Leger (Brooklyn, N.Y. / NYAC / Starrett Judo). Also watch for Kacper Larem (POL), a 2005 European U20 Championships bronze medalist. 100kg Brazil will be fielding two top players-Luciano Correa, the 2007 World Champion, and Leandro Leite, the 2007 Pan American Championships silver medalist. Canada also has several highly skilled players competing, including Keith Morgan (CAN), a 2003 World Championships fifth-place finisher and Scott Edward (CAN), a two-time New York Open Champion. Eduardo Costa (ARG), a 2004 Olympic Games seventh-place finisher, is another solid player from the Pan Am region. The top seed is expected to be Christian Aarona (Waimanalo, Hawaii / Makiki Seidokan Judo Club). Aarona came out of retirement in 2007 and advanced to the #2 ranking in the United States after winning bronze at the U.S. Open. +100kg Reigning World bronze medalist Joao Schlittler (BRA) will be back to New York to defend his 2007 title against players that include Joel Brutus (HAI), seven-time Pan Am medalist; Yasutaka Ohkawa (JPN), two-time U.S. Open Champion; and Daniel McCormick (Wakefield, Mass. / USA Judo National Team FORCE), four-time U.S. Open medalist. For more information, contact Nicole Jomantas, USA Judo Director of Communications and Media Relations, at 719.271.9937 (cell) or Nicole.Jomantas@usajudo.us. -END-