Natalie Lafon Returns Home to Defend Senior National Title in San Diego

April 16, 2009, 9:17 a.m. (ET)
(San Diego, Calif.) - Three years after moving away from her hometown of to train full-time as a judo player with Olympic aspirations, Natalie Lafon (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) returned to San Diego on Wednesday to compete in the USA Judo Senior National Championships this weekend.

"I'm really excited to be back in San Diego.  I haven't been home in I don't even know how long, about two years I think, so I'm really excited to see old friends and old coworkers and, of course, my family," Lafon said.

A judo player as a teenager, Lafon quit the sport to focus on soccer where she was a standout player at Mira Mesa High School.  Lafon came back to judo in 2005 when she won a silver medal in the 52kg division at the Senior National Championships. 

It was a move down to 48kg in 2007 that catapulted Lafon up the national roster when she won a silver medal at the Rendez-Vous Canada which she followed with her first Senior National title in 2008 where she upset seven-time Senior National Champion Sayaka Matsumoto (El Cerrito, Calif. / NYAC / East Bay Judo Institute) in the final.

"It's definitely a confidence boost to know that I can be at the top, but at the same time there's also the pressure of being number one.  I want to maintain that, but everyone's looking to take you down," Lafon said of her current #1 ranking in the division.  "All of the girls in the top five are capable of making the finals and they're all looking to win it too, so there's pressure to do well, but at the same time I still have confidence in my abilities." 

Lafon's status as the top U.S. player in the 48kg division earned her a trip to the Pan American Championships three weeks ago where she placed fifth at her first Pan Ams in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

"I learned that I'm right in there in terms of being able to compete with the top international girls," said Lafon who advanced to the bronze medal match in Buenos Aires. "There's just little things I need to work on to beat them next time.  There are just a few little things that I need to fix with my coaches, Jason and Teri, but soon I'll be beating the top players internationally."

Although Lafon grew up in a judo family with father Gerald Lafon, the head coach of Judo America, and sister Valerie Gotay, a two-time Olympian, most of Lafon's friends in San Diego have never seen the sport.

"I have friends from elementary school that I've kept in touch with over the years, junior high and my teaching days all coming out to watch me.  Most of my friends have never seen me fight, so this will be really neat for them to see why I moved all way across country," said Lafon whose division will be contested on Saturday - the second day of the tournament - at the Town & Country Resort and Conference Center, 500 Hotel Circle North, San Diego, CA 92108.

Preliminary rounds begin at 9 a.m. each day with finals and World Team Trials beginning at 5 p.m. each day.

The schedule of weight divisions being contested is as follows:

Friday, April 17
Men's 81kg, 90kg, 100kg and +100kg
Women's 63kg, 70kg, 78kg and +78kg

Saturday April 18
Men's 55kg, 60kg, 66kg, 73kg and Open
Women's 44kg, 48kg, 52kg, 57kg and Open