Aaron Kunihiro Advances to Second Round at Senior Worlds
(Rotterdam, Netherlands) - Three first-time World Team members got a taste of elite judo on Wednesday when they competed at the Senior World Championships.
Aaron Kunihiro (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) was up first for Team USA with an opening round against Ping-Shen Chen (TPE) in the 60kg division. Chen received an early penalty for stalling and then Kunihiro threw him with a seoi nage for a waza-ari (half-point) score on the next exchange.
Kunihiro continued to control the match, forcing Chen into another penalty and throwing him with a tai o toshi (body drop throw) for a yuko (quarter-point) score. Although Kunihiro received two penalties during the match, he still led by waza-ari and yuko scores when Chen was given a third stalling penalty. With 24 seconds on the clock, the third penalty equaled a waza-ari score for Kunihiro, giving him the win.
In the second round, Kunihiro fought Yasmani Piker (CUB), a three-time Pan American medalist. The match started slowly with Piker being penalized in the first minute, but the Cuban came back on the next exchange, throwing Kunihiro for a yuko score. Kunihiro was unable to commit a successful attack and Piker took the match to the ground where he armbarred Kunihiro for the win.
"I'm disappointed I didn't do as well as I'd wanted, but it's a good experience just to be here at an event this big," Kunihiro said. "You always have to work hard not to be afraid of who you're fighting against and not let the nerves build up."
At 15-years-old, Katelyn Bouyssou (Hope, R.I. / NYAC / Mayo Quanchi Judo Club) is the youngest athlete in this week's event and chose to view her age as an advantage as she prepared to compete in the 48kg division.
"For me there was less pressure here than at any other tournament," said Bouyssou who has dominated opponents in junior competition, but is only in her second full year of competing in senior events. "I just wanted to let it all hang out and do the judo I know how to do out there."
While competing with thousands of spectators in the stands may have rattled some, Bouyssou was unfazed.
"I saw a crowd like this last year at the Olympic Trials. I kind of choked a bit then, but this time I just knew to stay calm and focused," Bouyssou said. "Every time I fight my dad feels my hands to see if I'm nervous and if they're cold then I am, but today I was fine. You're always going to be a little nervous when you fight, but that's good. You just can't get so bad that your heart starts racing."
Bouyssou opened her day with a match against Jung-Yeon Chung (KOR), a 22-year-old who broke through earlier this year when she placed second at the Moscow Grand Slam. Bouyssou looked confident and aggressive during the match, but was caught by the Korean when Bouyssou changed her grip and was thrown for ippon (instant win) after two minutes.
"You can learn things from every match, no matter how long it is and I know I need to work on my gripping and speed. People always say that gripping is important and it's not like I didn't believe them, but I learned that it just takes one little mistake to throw everything off," Bouyssou reflected. "But I also learned that if they make a mistake I need to learn how to take advantage of it when I'm in that position."
Bouyssou will have the opportunity to fight for a World title again this fall when she competes at the Junior World Championships from Oct. 23-26.
Jeff Fong (San Jose, Calif. / USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University) competed in the 66kg division where he fought against two-time World medalist Miklos Ungvari (HUN).
"I wasn't that nervous before the match. I hadn't seen him fight many times and sometimes you just feel better not knowing," Fong said.
Fong was given two penalties that caused him to trail by a yuko score, but was still in the match when Ungvari pinned him. Within 10 seconds of the pin being called, Fong escaped, but was trapped again later in the match when Ungvari pinned him for the win.
"It's a little bit surreal to be here. Two years ago I wouldn't have put money on myself to make a World Team any time soon, but it's been a good experience," Fong said.
Competition continues on Thursday with the following divisions:
Kayla Chappell (Oklahoma City, Okla. / USA Stars)
Marti Malloy (San Jose, Calif. / USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University)
Michael Eldred (Fruitland, Idaho / Western Idaho Judo Institute)