U.S. judokas fight through nerves at world championships

By Jillian Clarke | Sept. 10, 2014, 8 a.m. (ET)
Katie Davis
Katie Davis, shown competing at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, returned to competition last week for the first time since the Games.

Excitement was high as athletes gathered at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for the International Blind Sports Association Judo World Championships, Sept. 4-6.

Athletes had high hopes of taking home medals for their country. Qualification slots for the 2016 Paralympic Games were also on the line.

Tension was high and palms were sweaty, which was no exception for the 16-members of Team USA.

For Bosnian-born U.S. judoka Adnan Gutic, who has had the sport in his blood since a young age, nerves were never much a problem growing up. But that changed on Friday when it was his turn to compete on the world stage.

“It’s nerve wracking,” Gutic said. “To compete against the best opponents from all over the world, it’s hard to stay loose. I’m trying not to think about things too much and just trying to be relaxed.”

U.S. Paralympian Katie Davis was also among those with shaky nerves. 

If the tough competition did not shake her, the fear of getting back on the mat after taking time off to start a family certainly could.

“Being at the world championships is great, but I’m anxious,” explained Davis, on the international mat for the first time at London.

Davis, who tied for seventh in the women’s +70 kg event, was supported by a few family members on the sidelines. In between rounds, she chatted with her sister and introduced her 1-year-old son to the international judo community.

She looked confident and ready to take on any opponent but with representing Team USA again, nerves were still present.

“I took time off from judo after London to have a baby, so this is my first time in two years that I’ve competed at this level. Even though I’ve been training and working hard, it’s a whole different thing once you make it to a competition like this one.”

Davis took a full-year off training while she was pregnant with her son. But she relied on her experience from practicing judo for almost 10 years to get her back on top.

“When I met my husband, he did judo, and he’s the one who convinced me to start,” she said. “I wasn’t sure about it for a while—I wasn’t an athletic person—but I enjoy it and I’m good at it. I never imagined getting to this level or even being a black belt.”

Gutic and Davis did not medal at the IBSA Judo World Championships, but their hopes for the future remain high. They remain focused.

“Right now I just need to get back into the swing of things,” said Davis. “I’m focusing more on my training, getting used to big competitions and balancing family and judo. As I get back into my competition mindset, I’ll be more confident. It’s an honor to be on Team USA, and I’m working towards representing the U.S. once again in 2016.”

The 2014 IBSA Judo World Championships was the first chance for athletes to earn their country a qualification slot at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. The next chance for spots comes in 2015.