Problems Popularizing USA Judo


Wall Street Journal

Kayla Harrison after her semifinal win at the 2012 Olympics.

Anonymous Tiger, Contributor

The United States dominates nearly all sports at the summer and winter Olympics. However, one sport in particular the USA doesn’t preform well in is judo. USA Judo only has one Olympic champion (2 gold medals) and only a handful of silver and bronze medalists, why is that?

A major reason the US isn’t as dominant in judo as they are other sports is the popularity. A majority of people have never heard of judo in the Olympics; although, it stands to reason that the eye-catching throws and submissions would draw a bigger crowd. If USA Judo spent more time trying to popularize and raise awareness about judo, rather than try and to establish which national competitor from the 80’s should get promoted next, more people would know about judo and be valuable supporters. USA Judo is so full of politics and trying to promote each other to seem better, without any accomplishments, that they don’t promote the sport or support the athletes.

USA Judo only supports a select few athletes with money to travel to training camps and tournaments. It is crucial for athletes to get exposure to foreign competition since the best fighters in the world do not live in the USA. Since most athletes must work a full-time job, train at an international level and fund their travels, most are not able to continue their dream of competing internationally and potentially at the Olympics. USA Judo should forget about themselves and put more money towards supporting their athletes, since that’s what really matters.

There is also no national training camp. This is hard to accomplish since the USA is very vast and it’s nearly impossible for all the best athletes to come together in one place. The top level judo dojos are spread across the country from Jimmy Pedro’s in Boston, MA, to Jason Morris’ in East Glennville, NY, to Cranford JKC in Cranford, NJ to SportJudo, in Springfield, VA to Ki-itsu-sai in Coconut Creek, Florida. The country’s best hopes at international medals are spread across the country.

America’s only Olympic gold medalist, Kayla Harrison, had to transition to MMA after her judo career after receiving zero support after retiring. Kayla had done what no other American Judo player had done at the Olympics (TWICE) and USA Judo gave her no job opportunities within USA Judo, no financial support, and no coaching opportunities. Kayla recently won a million dollars in the PFL and is becoming a household name within the MMA community but the way she was treated by USA Judo was beyond unfair.

In order to fix these problems and grow more Olympic caliber athletes in the US, USA Judo must first forget about their ego. They are too focused on themselves, and giving out black belts to undeserving people, that they cannot support international fighters. USA Judo is so worried about getting as many belt promotions for themselves, even though they haven’t placed at the Olympics, any international tournaments, and maybe haven’t even placed at national tournaments. There are countless athletes who HAVE placed and Olympics and other international tournaments who are ranked lower than USA Judo officials. Would these officials ever beat lower ranked players? Absolutely not. USA Judo needs to figure out their priorities and put athletes first.