Top U.S. Para Judoka Ben Goodrich Hopes For Breakthrough To Medal Stand At Baku Grand Prix

By Steve Drumwright | May 13, 2019, 4:20 p.m. (ET)

Ben Goodrich is pictured competing for the U.S. Paralympic Judo Team at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016.
Goodrich will compete this week at the IBSA Judo Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan. 

Like any curious traveler, Paralympian Ben Goodrich has a few things he likes to do on trips. Check out the city, see what the culture is like and grab a souvenir or two to remember the adventure.

But those all pretty much take a backseat to his top priority.

“I think on most of our trips, our No. 1 point of need prior to a tournament is finding a good coffee shop,” said Goodrich, the top-ranked American Para judo athlete. “I think that’s a good one, especially with the time change and stuff.”

Goodrich, who finished ninth at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 in the +100 kg. weight class, might be looking for extra-strong coffee this week at the IBSA Judo Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan, where he competes Tuesday. The 26-year-old — classified as B3, the most sighted of the three visually impaired divisions — is ranked seventh in the world at -100 kg. entering the tournament.

Goodrich knows the importance of being in top form for Baku. It is the first grand prix of 2019 within the qualification period for the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. At the world championships in November, Goodrich just missed the podium, losing in overtime to Christopher Skelley of Great Britain to finish tied for fifth.

“The last few tournaments, I have been closer and closer to getting to that point and worlds was just another show that I am right there on the cusp,” Goodrich said. “Hopefully this tournament is the tournament that shows that all come to fruition and I get onto the medal stand.”

If he is to improve on his showing at worlds, he will likely have to face Skelley, perhaps his chief rival, again. Or maybe even Zviad Gogotchuri of Georgia, the reigning Paralympic gold medalist at 90 kg. who moved up in weight after the last Paralympic Games and is ranked No. 1 at -100 kg.

“He hasn’t lost a match yet,” Goodrich said of Gogotchuri, who won their only matchup. “He’s definitely got strength, but I think his strongest thing is he keeps attacking.”

Goodrich said he is taking some of the lessons he learned from his battle with Gogotchuri and incorporating them into his attack to prepare as best as possible for their next potential meeting.

“His pace that he sets is a quick one, so you have to make sure you are keeping up with that pace and still doing your judo,” Goodrich said.

In the big picture, Goodrich is hoping Baku is the next step on his way to the podium in Tokyo. Having competed in Rio, he feels like he is on track.

“I learned to deal with the anxiousness of being there,” Goodrich said of competing at the Paralympic Games. “For me, that was the experience. Now I know what that’s like. Instead of not being there before and going, ‘Oh, I really want to make it to the Paralympics,’ now I’ve been to the Paralympics and now I want to win the Paralympics.”

Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.