Young Athletes Show Huge Progress In French Tour

By Ernest Pund | Dec. 18, 2013, 11:02 p.m. (ET)

In Third Year of French Tour
Young U.S. Athletes Show Huge Progress on Podium

Young U.S. guns added to the trove of medals won in France on their tour that included two favorite annuals, the Harnes International and the Tournament Lanester, both major elite events for juniors coming from all over the world.

“Our kids and our programs have matured to meet the challenges of competing in Europe at these levels and I hope that is sufficiently obvious that it will encourage more of our traveling athletes and families to make the choice to get to European events whenever possible and appropriate,” said Jim Hrbek, chairman of USA Judo’s Junior Athlete Performance Committee.

In 2011, 18 juniors went to Harnes and only three made it to bronze-medal rounds and ended with fifth place finishes. This year, seven young fighters took a gold, silver, bronze, fifth and seventh place.

Last year, Nina Cutro-Kelly, a U.S. elite who has been training in France for years, recommended the Tournament Lanester as a great ‘break-through’ event that runs back-to-back weekends with the Harnes International.

“Having trained and lived in this part of France for many years, I knew that the tournament would be both challenging and productive for our young athletes,” said Cutro-Kelly. “This year, our young group did not disappoint.  Throughout the tournament, the athletes were focused, serious and able to deal with the pressure of competing in divisions much larger than what they typically encounter stateside. I hope this year's four medals are a sign of many more to come in 2014."

Juniors who took medals in Lanester last weekend were:

  • Misato Sandoval took gold in the 52 kg division for birth years 1997-1999.
  • Rachel Butler won silver in the 63 kg division, 1997-1999, AND Best Technique Award.
  • And Jackson Butler was on the podium again, taking bronze in the 50 kg division, 2000-2001.

And Nina Cutro-Kelly (Universal Judo, San Antonio, TX), who worked with the juniors coaching in Lanester, went 4-0 to win the gold medal in the senior women’s +78 kg category.

The medals won in Lanester were added to those taken at the Harnes International the weekend before.

Jackson Butler (Tri-Valley Judo, Pleasnton, CA) went undefeated with a 5-0 record to take the top spot in the Boys' 50 kg. division. Butler has been on a roll this year, taking gold at a number of U.S. and Pan American tournaments including the USA Judo’s Junior Olympics and the Pan American Championships in El Salvador.

Erica Paccione (Coral Springs, FL) took a Silver in the Girls' 52 kg. group.

Mariah Holguin (Universal Judo, San Antonio, TX) dropped a heartbreaker in the semi-finals and finished the day with a Bronze medal at 48 kg.