Junior World Team Heads for Slovenia and Beyond

By Ernest Pund | Oct. 16, 2013, 12:26 p.m. (ET)

It is very likely that among these 20 young athletes headed to the Junior World Championships in Slovenia next week are some future U.S. Olympians.

“This is a very big step for our kids toward getting to know their competition. They will see these same faces across the mats at elite, senior tournaments not too far down the road, at Continental Opens, Grand Slams and even the Olympic Games,”  said Eddie Liddie, USA Judo’s Director of High Performance.

Some of those on the U.S. ROSTER for the Junior World Championships in Slovenia’s capital of Ljubljana, Oct 24 - 27, may follow the path cleared by judo superstar Kayla Harrison, (USA Judo Training Site, Pedro’s Judo Center/NYAC, Wakefield, MA), who was a Junior World Champion in 2008 before she won our nation’s first Olympic gold medal at the Games in London last summer.

Some of these names already are familiar. Sophia Swain (USA Judo Training Site, San Jose State University Judo) took gold at the Junior Pan American Championships in Buenos Aires in July ... and she’s the daughter of Olympic Medalist and USA Judo Board Member Mike Swain. Her mom, Tania Ishii Swain, was on the 1992 Olympic Judo team for Brazil and was a Pan American Champion.

“I look forward to coaching Sophia at the Junior Worlds,” said Swain, who will be mat-side in Slovenia. “Especially as a parent, it makes me so proud to see my daughter represent her country. I wish all the athletes on this World team the best. This is a great test in their young careers, to see where they stand and how to improve for the future.”

For siblings George and Annie Truong (USA Judo Training Site, Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs, CO) this is an increasingly familiar scene as they compete together at one elite tournament after another.

The Junior World Championships is for athletes under the age of 21. That means that Alex Hyatt (Cahill Judo Academy, San Bruno, CA), one of the youngest players on the team at just 15, could face fighters several years older. She notes that this is her first Junior World Championships, a clear suggestion that this young star will be back again and again to the Junior Worlds before she becomes a champion on the senior circuit. Steady on the path, Hyatt heads to the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, next year.

"I am looking forward to meeting my opponents in my first Junior World competition,” Hyatt said. “I understand that many of them will be older than me as I just turned 15 two months ago, but I will fight strategically and with smarts, as my coaches at Cahill Academy always remind me to."

Coaching the team is Jhonny Prado, head of USA Judo Training Site at Ki-Itsu-Sai, Coconut Creek, FL, and Brett Wolf, head of USA Judo Paralympic Training Site, Menomonee Judo Club in Chicago, IL. Serving as team manager is Lou Moyerman, of Liberty Bell Judo in Philadelphia, PA.

The team of young fighters qualified for this competition at the National Scholastic Championships in March with several wildcard slots filled at the Junior Olympic Championships in late June.