Sports

4 Years After Olympic Scandal, Westfield Judo Star Nick Delpopolo Ready to Prove Himself in Rio

2f23100063615d3729cf_nick_headshot.jpg
Westfield native Nick Delpopolo is one of only three men to make this year’s USA Olympic judo squad.  Credits: Institute of Human Performance
75cc7edad749d9446238_image5__1_.JPG
Delpopolo would have had a seventh place finish in the 2012 Olympics, but was sent home after he tested positive for cannabis. Credits: Lou DiGesare/Real Judo Magazine
cb937a1b955f83e32975_8938219a29c679710de0_nick_kid.jpg
Delpopolo began competing at a young age. Credits: Delpopolo family
2f23100063615d3729cf_nick_headshot.jpg

WESTFIELD, NJ — Nick Delpopolo made his mark on the 2012 Olympics, but not the way he had hoped to. The judo fighter and Westfield native would have had a respectful seventh place finish in London in his 73kg class, but after a routine drug test after his final match, the International Olympic Committee said that Delpopolo tested positive for cannabis — a doping violation. He was immediately disqualified, stripped of his wins and sent home before the closing ceremonies.

Delpopolo has said that he unintentionally ate something before the games that had been baked with marijuana. The incident created a flurry of negative attention from the national media that Delpopolo has been trying to shake ever since.

“The kid had so many obstacles thrown his way,” said his dad, Dominick Delpopolo. “It’s a wonder he still has his head on straight.”

Sign Up for E-News

Described by his coach and family as a fighter, Delpopolo didn’t give up. Against seemingly unsurmountable odds, he heads to Rio later this month to fight in the 73kg class. He is one of only three men to make this year’s USA squad.

“It was hard, but you can’t spend too much time thinking about it,” said Delpopolo, 27. “A lot of people would say, ‘The heck with this, I’m done.’ But I love judo too much and competing too much. I was young at the time.’”

After serving an embarrassing three-month competition ban back in 2012, he had to begin the process of overcoming the negative perception of those within the judo community. While his close friends and personal coaches have been able to move on, winning over those within USA Judo and countless fans has not been easy, he said.

“It was the initial anxiety, almost fear, of facing people when I decided to compete again for another Olympics,” Delpopolo said. “But once I did it, then it was, ‘I don’t really care about what people think. Forget about them. The only people I care about are the people who care for me.’”

He added “It’s to prove to people that I can compete with the best and I don’t want that to define my legacy. I want an Olympic medal to define my legacy.”

When the Olympics kick off on Aug. 5, Delpopolo will be a part of a very strong field in the 73 kg class. Considered among the most competitive division in men’s judo at the games, the roughly 30 participants from around the world were required to have a top 22 world ranking over the last four years in order to qualify.

“You look at the numbers going into any tournament,” said Delpopolo. “My weight, and the weight below me, have by far the most competitors and then there’s everyone else. My category is made up of the average male height and weight. It’s the perfect mix of speed, power, athleticism, technique and ability.”

Delpopolo’s drive was evident early in life. Born in Montenegro and placed in an orphanage as a baby, he was adopted at 18 months old by Dominick and Joyce Delpopolo of Westfield. He attended McKinely Elementary School and Edison Intermediate School in Westfield, where he continued to develop academically and athletically.

“My passion for sports grew immensely in Westfield,” said Delpopolo. “We had a very good PAL program in football, soccer and wrestling, the three sports I played as a child besides judo. There was a lot of depth in each, especially the wrestling program.”

At the Cranford Judo Karate Center during his middle school years, Delpololo studied under the late Yoshisada Yonezuka, the 1988 and 1992 USA Olympic head coach. (Yonezuka died in 2014.)

“The Olympic dream was instilled in me from the day I walked in the door,” Delpololo said.

He went on to become a star wrestler at Bergen Catholic for his first two years of high school. A serious knee injury derailed his wrestling career and steered him full-time into his real passion of judo. 

Delpopolo convinced his parents to let him finish high school in upstate New York, where he would live and train at the Jason Morris Judo Center under Morris, a four-time U.S. Olympian and a silver medalist in 1992.  

Since then, “It’s been judo all the time,” he said.

Next month in Rio, it will be more than judo all the time. He will have his chance in front of the world to make up for his miscue in 2012 and fight for the Olympic medal he has been working toward since he was a child. But for Delpopolo, it’s more than just the pursuit of a medal that motivates him.

“I do something I love every day because I get to train and compete all across the world,” he said. “You can’t put a price on that.”

A frequent contributor to TAP into Westfield, Mike Cohen is the founder/director of Throwback Sports (a sports program for children of all abilities) and the sports editor of Education Update. He can be reached at throwbacksports@verizon.net

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Berkeley Heights

Christopher Rinaldi for Town Council - Leadership, Judgement, Experience

May 17, 2018

My name is Christopher Rinaldi.  As a long-time member of the Republican Party, I am running in the Republican Primary on June 5th for Township Council and Republican Municipal Committee of Berkeley Heights.

As a follow-up to my Candidate Statements from the last two weeks, I would like to share with you a few areas of direct work experience garnered over the past 25 years that I believe ...

Redevelopment: Taking the First Step Together While Protecting Berkeley Heights

Redevelopment. It’s something that takes careful planning, foresight, the ability to negotiate for the most favorable outcome, and, of course, patience. I’m proud to say that we’ve been able to reach all of these milestones. Tomorrow, on Wednesday, May 16, 2018, we as a community will take the first step together in the culmination of these efforts, when the ...

I am Proud to be Your Mayor

Honesty and results. Those two principles characterize my service to our community for the last nine years. I served on Town Council for four years and have been your Mayor for five years. I appreciate the opportunity to serve you and our community, steering it in a positive direction. During this time, I have learned about our Town, identified areas for improvement and been privileged ...

Rain Didn't Dampen Our Vision for Art in the Park

May 21, 2018

The rain did not dampen our vision for Art in the Park!! Columbia Middle School was transformed into an art paradise, filled with an array of artists whose talents are nothing short of magical! The Peppertown Park Art in the Park Committee would like to thank all of the artists who came to our very first Art in the Park event. We are in awe of your creativity and immeasurable talents! You all ...

Taxes up, Services down.....At least someone is listening

Do you feel as if you are getting good services from the town for what you pay in property taxes? I don’t, and wanted to thank the one Council person who voted NO on this year’s municipal budget which will increase your taxes by more than 3 percent, exceeding the cap.  Thank you, Susan Poage, for listening to taxpayers.

When our Mayor grants raises by executive order ...

Who Is Dmitriy?

Who Is Dmitriy?

That is the question I asked myself in the past year or two. I first chanced across him online in community conversation. When an issue seemed to go nowhere, people starting to get ugly and nasty, personal attacks escalating, in would pop Dmitriy and with one comment, he could sum things up. He based his  opinion on information he knew, coupled with what he could glean ...

Berkeley Heights Community Pool Set to Open May 26!

May 21, 2018

Tired of the rain and ready for the sun? We sure are! The Berkeley Heights Community Pool at the YMCA is slated to open during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend on May 26! With only one month until summer starts, swimmers can get a headstart jump into the pool during our pre-season opening! 

Join the Berkeley Heights Community Pool at the YMCA today—there are no joining fees, and ...

Mountain Ridge Bible Chapel Presents Special Women’s program

 

Mountain Ridge Bible Chapel, 763 Mountain Avenue, Berkeley Heights, is very pleased to host a unique free seminar for women on Saturday June 2, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. 

The speaker will be Doctor Ruth Schwertfeger of Brookfield, Wisconsin. Ruth was born in Northern Ireland, is a retired Professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  She speaks several languages, and ...

Kids Can Change The World

Karen De La Maza is the founder of “Kids Can Change The World”, a program designed to instill humane values in children while developing essential life skills and positive leadership. Karen and her family relocated to NJ from her native Mexico City in 2008 for her husband’s job.

Karen has always had a strong passion for helping people in need. With ten years of experience in ...

Racing to the Finish and Supporting Cancer Survivors

VIEW PHOTO ALBUM

MAY 13, 2018 SUNDAY | BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ—On May 13, the Summit Area YMCA welcomed over 1,000 participants to the 17th Annual Mother’s Day 5K Run/Walk at Memorial Field, in Berkeley Heights. This family-friendly event also hosted a fun magic show, invigorating Zumba dancing, a tot trot, face painting and music.

Matthew Byrne of Berkeley Heights won first place ...

Fallout Continues from Lawsuit Against Mountainside; Police Chief on Administrative Leave

May 19, 2018

MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ – Police Chief Allan Attanasio is the latest member of the police department to suffer repercussions from a complaint filed against the borough on May 11.  Attanasio, who is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, was “placed on administrative leave,” on Thursday by Borough Administrator and former Police Chief James Debbie, said  Lt. Joseph ...

Video Shows School Board Member In Altercation With Police at Traffic Stop in South Orange

May 16, 2018

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - South Orange Maplewood School Board Member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad got into an altercation with a South Orange police officer who stopped her for speeding last month, in which she used profanity, complained when she was issued a ticket and called South Orange Police Chief Kyle Kroll “a skinhead cop.”

Lawson-Muhammad also appeared to suggest that she would ...

Upcoming Events

Mon, May 21, 7:45 AM

17 Kent Place Boulevard, Summit

Monday Morning Yoga

Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_d95868a30ee9ef39c254_lwv_pr_2018_marijuana_flyer_for__nptv

Mon, May 21, 7:30 PM

New Providence

Marijuana: Decriminalize? Legalize?

Health & Wellness

Thu, May 24, 9:30 AM

Junior League of Summit Thrift Shop, Summit

Here Comes Summer! Junior League of Summit Thrift ...

Giving Back Green

Fri, May 25, 9:30 AM

Junior League of Summit Thrift Shop, Summit

Here Comes Summer! Junior League of Summit Thrift ...

Giving Back Green

Sat, May 26, 2:00 PM

New Providence

Memoir Writing Workshops @ NPML

Arts & Entertainment

Thu, May 31, 11:30 AM

Canoe Brook Country Club, Summit

Fortnightly Club Scholarship Luncheon

Food & Drink Giving Back

Don’t Make These Three Mistakes About Social Security

Social Security has been around for decades and it’s not about to disappear. Why? Social Security is not an entitlement ("gift") that can be taken away - it’s a forced savings scheme that Americans pay into in their working years in order to secure a pension for life. Ideally, Social Security should not be your sole source of income in retirement but even comfortable ...