(San Jose, Calif.) – The U.S. Open will conclude on Saturday with competition in the lightweight and Open divisions at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, Calif.
Competition begins at 9 a.m. and gold medal finals will be held at 5 p.m.
A complete breakdown of the divisions is as follows. The Open division will be drawn during the tournament.
After spending much of the past year fighting up to 48kg, three former U.S. Open medalists have returned to the lightest weight division this week. Veronica Prado (Coral Springs, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami) is the top seed, but unseeded 18-year-old Taylor Ibera (Honolulu, Hawaii / Hawaii Tenri) is a former Pan American Champion in the division and won her first U.S. Open title in 2006. Nineteen-year-old Alexa Liddie (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) is a former Pan Am medalist as well, but has not beaten either Prado or Ibera this year. Prado and Ibera fought at the Junior Olympics in July with Prado earning a trip to the Junior Worlds after going 2-1 in their series.
Top seed Ann Shiraishi (San Francisco, Calif. / East Bay Judo Institute) won her first U.S. Open title in 2008, but injuries have kept her out of competition this year. In her absence, #2 seed Katelyn Bouyssou (Hope, R.I. / NYAC / Mayo Quanchi Judo Club) won her first Senior National title and became the youngest athletes to compete at this year’s Senior World Championships at just 15.
With 16 players, 52kg is the largest of the women’s divisions and any number of athletes could win the gold medal. Jeanette Rodriguez (Davie, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami) is the top seed in the division. Rodriguez may find herself facing a familiar opponent in Glenda Miranda (ECU), a former 48kg player who Rodriguez defeated in the bronze medal match of the 2007 Pan American Games. First, however, a potential match-up could occur in the second round between Miranda and Natalie Lafon (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center). A two-time Senior Nationals silver medalist in the 52kg division, Lafon moved down to 48kg in 2007, but has reappeared unseeded in this division for the Open. Jessica Irons (Yorkville, Ill. / Yorkville Judo) is the #2 seed in the division and is on the opposite side of the draw. Irons and Rodriguez battled out two close matches at the Junior Olympics this year, but Irons could have a different challenge from six-time Pan Am medalist Flor Velasquez (VEN).
Marti Malloy (San Jose, Calif. / USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University) has placed in the top nine at the World Championships and medalled in Europe, but has been eluded by a gold medal at the U.S. Open. After winning silver medals in 2005 and 2006 and bronzes in 2007 and 2008, Malloy would love to win gold in front of a hometown audience. Last year, Malloy’s gold medal bid was stymied by Hannah Martin (Glenville, N.Y. / NYAC / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) who is in Malloy’s half of the draw this year as well. Martin, however, must get past either Luciana Castillo (VEN) or Diana Villavicencio (ECU) to get to this potential semifinal matchup. On the top half of the bracket, Senior 2009 Pan Am Team member Angelica Delgado (Miami, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami) and 2008 Junior World Team member Hana Carmichael (Wakefield, Mass. / USA Judo National Team FORCE) also are each looking for her first U.S. Open gold.
At 38-years-old, eight-time U.S. Open medalist Hiram Cruz (PUR) is almost always twice the age of his competitors, but Cruz hasn’t won this event since 2002, so any number of younger players could upset him in San Jose. Senior Nationals medalist Aaron Fukuhara (Torrance, Calif. / Gardena Judo) is in Cruz’s pool and could be in the position to win his first U.S. Open medal. Visually impaired athlete Ron Hawthorne (Kansas City, Kans.) placed in the top five at the Senior Nationals this year and has the potential to become just the second visually impaired athlete to medal at the U.S. Open.
While this division is wide open for a first-time champion to be crowned, the match to watch is guaranteed to be a potential second-round fight between 2009 Pan Am medalist Aaron Kunihiro (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) and Javier Guedez (VEN) who placed seventh at the World Championships in August.
A top contender for the 2008 Olympic Team before sustaining an injury leading up to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Judo, Kenny Hashimoto (Thornton, Colo. / Northglenn Judo) is returning for his first major event in nearly a year and a half. Hashimoto has a difficult side of the draw with potential matches against Adil El-Mani (FRA) and Tsubasa Goya (JPN). Also on Hashimoto’s side of the draw is World Team member Jeff Fong (San Jose, Calif. / USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University) who trained alongside Hashimoto when he was at SJSU in 2008. Fong was an underdog at the 2008 U.S. Open who won a silver medal in his first Open medal match and could surprise in his hometown as well. On the bottom of the draw, watch for three-time Pan Am medalist Roberto Ibanez (ECU) to advance to the medal rounds.
The favorite in this division is Khashbaatar Tsagaanbaatar (MGL) who is coming off a win at the World Championships last month in the 66kg division. Tsagaanbaatar, who is reported to be arriving with a large contingent of fans in tow, is in the same quadrant as top seed Michael Eldred (Fruitland, Idaho / Western Idaho Judo Institute) who is the reigning National Champion and Pan Am medalist. On the top half of the draw, 2008 Senior Nationals silver medalist Nick Delpopolo (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) has never medalled at the U.S. Open, but has the potential to do so in San Jose. Also in Delpopolo’s half, however, is 10-time Pan Am medalist Ludwig Ortiz (VEN) who is a finals favorite. Watch for a possible spoiler, though, by Andrew Porras (Miami, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami) who nearly defeated Ortiz during a team challenge event last week and has beaten Delpopolo twice in junior competition.