U.S. Olympic Judo Fighters Head for Rio Grand Slam

By Ernest Pund | June 07, 2012, 12:24 a.m. (ET)

Three members of the U.S. Olympic Judo Team head to Rio de Janeiro for a Grand Slam this weekend, one of the last shots they have at elite tournament competition before the Olympics in London.

Making the trip are Kayla Harrison, 78 kg (NYAC/Team FORCE, Wakefield, Mass.), a favorite to take gold in London; Travis Stevens, 81 kg (NYAC/Team Force, Wakefield, Mass.); and Nick Delpopolo, 73 kg (NYAC/Jason Morris Judo, Glenville, NY).

This will be Stevens first major tournament in months after recovering from a partially torn hamstring and then a broken toe, said U.S. Olympic Judo Coach Jimmy Pedro. For Harrison, said Pedro, “this will be a good tune up … we do not expect her to face any stiff competition. But she always fights better in the big ones, when she is actively competing.”

Nick Delpopolo is fresh from the Morris Cup, run by his coach, Olympic silver medalist Jason Morris, where Delpopolo took gold in his division.

Grand Slams are among the toughest tournaments in the world, just below the Olympics and World Championships in terms of competition. Judo teams, however, have already qualified their players for the Olympics so points won here won’t shift the rosters headed for London. These international tournaments now are mainly an opportunity to train for that pinnacle event this summer.

Competition is Saturday and Sunday. See all the brackets at IPPON.ORG. Watch the action streaming live at IPPON.TV.