Judo Preview

The sport of judo comes full circle at this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo as it heads back to not only the country of its birth but also where it made its Olympic debut in 1964. Formerly a male-only sport at the Games, women’s judo was added as a demonstration sport in the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, before being added to the official Olympic program in 1992. Since the sport’s addition, USA Judo athletes have won 14 medals at the Olympic Games. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Kayla Harrison (78 kg.) successfully defended her 2012 Olympic gold and Travis Stevens (81 kg.) earned silver. 

The goal of a judo match is to throw one’s opponent onto his or her back, finishing with an arm lock, stranglehold or immobilization on the floor. Various moves are assigned different point values. A contest can be won immediately if a competitor scores “ippon,” the maximum 10 points, by throwing the adversary largely on their back with strength and speed and holding them immobile on the floor for 25 seconds. Otherwise, points are given for lesser moves — such as “wazari,” in which the opponent is taken down and held immobile for at least 15 seconds, but less than 20. Two wazari are equal to one ippon. The third technique is the “yuko,” which occurs when the rival falls on his or her side or is held down for at least 10 seconds, but less than 15. The judoka with the most points at the end of a five-minute match is the winner.

Updated on July 11, 2021. For more information, contact the sport press officer here.

• Judo premiered at the Olympic Games in 1964 in Tokyo. That inaugural U.S. Olympic judo team achieved great success on the mat and went on to achieve great success off the mat as well. Team members included: Jim Bregman, who became the first U.S. Olympic medalist in the sport of judo with his bronze-medal finish; Paul Maruyama, who became the coach of the U.S. Olympic judo team for the 1980 and 1984 Games; and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who went on to become a U.S. Representative, a U.S. Senator and a member of the Council of Chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. 

• The 1964 team was coached by second-generation Japanese-American, Yoshihiro Uchida. Uchida celebrated his 100th birthday in April 2020. He graduated from San Jose State University in 1947 and has been an icon in both the San Jose and international judo communities for decades. After graduation from SJSU, Uchida continued to coach at the university and organized the first collegiate judo national championships in 1962 — two years before being named as the head coach of the first U.S. Olympic judo team in 1964. Uchida helped grow and train Olympic medalists Kevin Asano (1988, silver), Bob Berland (1984, silver), Marti Malloy (2012, bronze) and Mike Swain (1988, bronze). In 1986, Uchida received one of the highest honors an individual can receive in Japan — the Order of the Sacred Treasure with Golden Rays by Emperor Hirohito of Japan. Even at his advanced age, he continues to coach at SJSU.

• Beyond the development of physical prowess and athletic ability, judo students learn much more. They learn how to control their feelings, emotions and impulses through the Judo Moral Code, which is a set of ethics created by the sport’s founder Jigoro Kano. He believed that courtesy, courage, friendship, honesty, honor, modesty, respect and self-control were vital in the development of judo players and individuals both on and off the mat. Through their experience in the sport, judoka learn about politeness, modesty and many other wonderful values that contribute to their development as successful citizens of society. The word judo consists of two Japanese characters, ju, which means “gentle,” and do, which means “the way.” Judo, therefore, literally means the way of gentleness.

• There will be a new mixed team component added to the medal program for Tokyo, but for countries to be eligible, the National Olympic Committee must field a qualified athlete in the following six weight categories: women’s 57 kg., 70 kg. and +70 kg.; men’s 73kg., 90 kg. and +90 kg.

• Angelica Delgado, 30, competes in the women’s 52 kg. division and clinched her place in Tokyo by virtue of her standing as the highest-ranked American in the world rankings. The 2016 Olympian trains under the tutelage of Johnny Prado at the Ki-itsu-sai National Training Center in Coral Springs, Florida. The daughter of Cuban immigrants, Delgado is fluent in both English and Spanish.

• Colton Brown, 29, is the top-ranked U.S. men’s judoka and clinched his spot via the world rankings. Brown is making his second U.S. Olympic judo team in the 90 kg. weight class, having also represented Team USA at the 2016 Rio Games. The three-time world championship competitor placed fifth at the 2021 Pan American Championships.

• Nefeli Papadakis, 22, ranks right behind Delgado among U.S. women and is the top ranked U.S. woman in the 78 kg. division. Coached by her father, Steve Papadakis, Nefeli began competing at the age of 4 and has since become a repeating national champion. She also teaches judo with several family members at their training center in Waukegan, Illinois. Born in Chicago, Papadakis graduated from Warren Township High School in Gurnee, Illinois, in 2017, before going on to study entrepreneurship at College of Lake County in Gurnee.

• Nina Cutro-Kelly rounds out the U.S. judo team, making her first Olympics at age 36. She’ll become the oldest American to compete in the sport since it was added to the Olympics in 1964. A native of Albany, New York, Cutro-Kelly nonetheless has no shortage of international experience, including several appearances at the world championships.

• July 24, 2021: First day of Olympic competition includes finals in women’s 48 kg. and men’s 60 kg.
• July 25, 2021: Finals in women’s 52 kg. and men’s 66 kg.
• July 26, 2021: Finals in women’s 57 kg. and men’s 73 kg.
• July 27, 2021: Finals in women’s 63 kg. and men’s 81 kg.
• July 28, 2021: Finals in women’s 70 kg. and men’s 90 kg.
• July 29, 2021: Finals in women’s 78 kg. and men’s 100 kg.
• July 30, 2021: Finals in women’s +78 kg. and men’s +100 kg.
• July 31, 2021: Final in mixed team