2011 NYAC Judo Team Competition
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Manhattan, NY The New York Athletic Club hosted the first ever New York Open Team Championships sponsored jointly by the NYAC and Film Annex on Sunday March 6th. Team Judo competitions are very popular in Europe and Asia, drawing thousands of fans and displaying colorful Judogi's. Team Judo competition encourages audience participation and offers cash prizes to the winning team. The NYAC took a bold step forward by joining with Francesco Rulli of Film Annex to create its first Team Championships while continuing its tradition of setting a high standard of Judo excellence year in and year out. As always, the tournament committee of Dr. Arthur Canario, John Walla and Mel Applebaum did an outstanding job of organizing the event, arranging with the NYAC for use of the facilities, bringing in world class officials appropriate to the level of the competition and providing an exciting and competitor friendly environment.
The event featured power house teams from Italy, Germany, Canada and the United States. The teams were all vying for a $2,000.00 cash prize that came along with the gold medals. The athletes competed in front of a very vocal New York crowd as many Judo fans showed up to watch the action. DJ Mark LaRush rocked the house throughout the event, pumping the crowd up with a wide variety of music. 5 time National Champion Carrie Chandler was on the microphone providing live commentary during the matches, energizing fans and competitors alike. The entire event was filmed by a large production crew from Film Annex which will be airing the event on its website.
Tennis legend and champion of women's sports Billie Jean King made a special appearance during the event to give a speech and award a $5,000.00 check on behalf of the Women's Sports Foundation and Rusty Kanokogi endowment fund to World Champion and NYAC athlete Kayla Harrison. King also awarded a $2,500.00 check to US Open Champion Hana Carmichael, another NYAC member. King commented that, although a close friend of Rusty Kanokogi, the driving force in women's Judo, this was her first Judo competition and she was very excited to watch the matches.
The action was fast and furious right from the start with Team Germany defeating Team Canada and Team USA defeating Team Italy. In the semi-finals Team Germany defeated Team Italy and Team USA defeated Team Canada, setting up a gold medal show down of the Americans versus the Germans.
In the finals, Team Germany sported white Judogi tops with black gi pants and Team USA debuted Blue Judogi tops with Red Judogi pants. 2 time NY Open Champion Toni Lettner was the German Team Coach and the Americans were coached by none other than NYAC Hall of Famer and World Champion Jimmy Pedro.
Toni Lettner and his German team, consisting of Danny Wallich, Stefan Kneitinger, Rene Kirsten, Robert Gess and Dominick Gerzer got into a huddle and chanted "Deutchland - Deutchland - Deutchland!" before the gold medal match. Across the mat, Jimmy Pedro and the Americans were also in a huddle chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A!". With the music blaring and the crowd clapping its hands and stomping its feet, the energy built and was at its peak as the first two athletes walked out onto the tatami.
2010 Pan American Champion Brad Bolen (66kg) started the Americans off strong earning the US a 10 point lead by pinning Danny Wallich, drawing whistles and cheers from the crowd and earned him a standing ovation.
Rising star in the 73kg division Nick Delpopolo was held scoreless by tough German Stefan Kneitinger and after 5 minutes the match ended in a draw. Score: 10-0 to the Americans.
Moving into the third round, 2008 Olympian Travis Stevens (81kg) defeated Robert Gess by wazari and moved the Americans into a comfortable 2-0, 17-0 lead.
With their backs against the wall the Germans sent out Rene Kirsten (90kg) to take on Garry St. Leger of the US. Garry was the crowd favorite all day as he hails from New York City. The crowd couldn't will their man to victory though, as the powerful German slammed Garry with Uchimata making the score 2-1, 17-10 in favor of the Americans going into the 5th and final match.
American Kyle Vashkulot (+90kg) had sustained an injury earlier in the day when fighting the Italian, but, with no alternate in his division to replace him, decided to gut it out and try and secure the gold for the Americans. In what became the match of the tournament, the crowd was thrilled as Vashkulot and Dominik Gerzer both laid it all on the line, lifting each other high in the air with powerful attacks. On one occasion Vashkulot appeared to have the match won when Gerzer attempted a sacrifice throw and landed solidly on his back. Both corner Judges called ippon for Vashkulot but after consultation with the Jury (two international A level referees), it was deemed that Vashkulot did not do enough to change Gezer's momentum and the ippon was waived off. This drove the audience into a frenzy and there was still no score on the board approaching the 5th and final minute of the match. Gerzer delighted the German team when Vashkulot attempted a throw and the German lifted him high in the air with a counter attack that took them all the way off of the tatami into the audience and the American's back hit the wood floor with a thud that shook the building. Everyone's eyes turned to the corner judge who stretched his arm out straight, deeming the throw started in bounds, and the referee called ippon giving the win and the gold medal to the German team. A stunned American team had to watch as the Germans swarmed the mat lifting their man high into the air in celebration. The German cheering section in the crowd went wild with excitement and cheers could be heard throughout the building.
Although both teams were tied with 2 wins a piece, because the Germans won both of their matches by ippon and the Americans only had 1 ippon and 1 wazari, the German team was declared the winner by a score of 20-17.
Team Canada defeated Team Italy to take the bronze medal.
The event was followed by a banquet in the Tap Room where all players and coaches were invited to join in a post match celebration that included good food and drink, along with the traditional lies, boasting and friendly challenges for upcoming competitions.
The NYAC and Film Annex are to be commended for bringing a new and exciting format for Judo competition to the US. By all accounts, the experiment was a success and all the competitors expressed their appreciation and that they were looking forward to another competition next year.
On Monday, the German and Italian teams visited our workout, run by Aziz Bendriss, head instructor of the NYAC's Saturday morning children's program, at which each of the visiting players was invited to demonstrate and share his favorite techniques.