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:

Sign Up for E-News

Berkeley Heights

WFP Tax Partners Walks You Through 4 Step Tax Return Process

February 22, 2018

Over 80% of Tax Returns Have Errors or Missed Deductions. You're Probably Paying More Than Your Fair Share in Taxes

BASKING RIDGE, NJ - Tax returns certainly give a clear picture of the past year, but WFP Tax Partners believes it's wise to strategize for the current year to have a plan for moving forward. 

At your tax appointment, they ...

Reminder: Free Wellness Program for Union County Military Women

All Union County women with military service – veterans, active duty and reserve – are invited to join “Boots 2 Heels,” a free event designed to foster wellness and connect women with resources and guidance for empowerment. Boots 2 Heels will be held on Saturday, February 24 at the Westfield Armory, located at 500 Rahway Avenue in Westfield.

The event is free but ...

CSA's 5th Annual Pasta Dinner Fundraiser Set for Sunday

Is everyone ready to come together as a community and break bread to support the CSA? It's time for The Community Service Association of New Providence's 5th Annual Pasta & Meatball Dinner! This fun, family-friendly event will take place on Sunday, Feb. 25, at the DeCorso Community Center, 15 East Fourth Street, New Providence. Pasta, meatballs, and dessert will be served from 3-7 ...

Caregiver Conference Sunday, Feb. 25, Focuses on Caregiver's Needs

 

Jewish Family Service of Central NJ, (JFSCNJ) a non-sectarian health and social service agency, will be hosting a Caregiver Conference called, “Caring for a Loved One While Being Mindful of Your Own Needs,” from 10 a.m. to noon, Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Jewish Family Service of Central NJ, Halpern Building, 655 Westfield Ave. Elizabeth.  

 The Conference, ...

Colleen Mahr Has Paid Her Dues, Earned Peoples’ Trust, and Left a Track Record of Success

February 20, 2018

Dear Editor:

As a 26-year-old Scotch Plains resident who cares more about the well-being of our town than about local politics, I am extremely disappointed that the Scotch Plains Democratic Committee leadership has decided to abandon Colleen Mahr in her run for Chair of the Union County Democratic Committee.

Mahr, who as Mayor of Fanwood for 15 years has worked closely with Scotch Plains ...

We Need More Women Like Colleen Mahr in Municipal, County and State Government

Dear Editor:

I’m proud to support Colleen Mahr for Chair of the Union County Democratic Committee  (UCDC) and am encouraging my Scotch Plains peers to join me.

I was a first time candidate wanting to make a difference in my hometown of Scotch Plains, when Mayor Mahr of neighboring Fanwood stepped in to help me campaign and win my election to be Councilwoman three years ago.

Democratic Party Would Be Making a Big Mistake by Not Recognizing Colleen Mahr's Talents

Dear Editor:

Mayor Colleen Mahr has been a valuable friend to the Township of Cranford. Whether it’s offering advice and assistance during devastating flood cleanup, supporting the Mayor's Council on the Rahway River, or her insight and assistance in meeting our affordable housing obligations, Mayor Mahr is always there for Cranford.

Colleen’s fairness and integrity is ...

Chatham Borough Police Chief Crosson has Retired; Captain Gibbons is Acting Commander

February 12, 2018

CHATHAM, NJ - Phil Crosson Jr., who has been a member of the Chatham Borough Police Department since 1992, retired from his position as the police chief on Feb. 1.

"It came on pretty quickly," Crosson said when reached by phone on Sunday. "I was on vacation for six weeks and I bought a business. I came back for one day and retired."

According to Crosson, ...

‘Reefer Madness’ Comes to Chatham Borough Council; Cannabis Advocates Make Pitch for Chatham Marijuana Shop

February 14, 2018

CHATHAM, NJ - A group of pro-cannabis activists came to the Borough of Chatham Council meeting on Monday night and used the public commentary portion of the meeting to ask the council to support a marijuana dispensary in town.

The advocates, who say they have attended more than 80 town meetings to inform about the benefits of medical cannabis, mentioned the 1936 movie "Reefer ...

Upcoming Events

Fri, February 23

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Volunteer Art Show!

Arts & Entertainment Green

Carousel_image_b59229b3972266545812_magnet_fundraising_auction_2018_flyer_0219

Fri, February 23, 6:30 PM

Union County Vocational Technical Schools, West Hall Cafeteria, Scotch Plains

Union County Magnet High School Silent Auction

Arts & Entertainment Food & Drink

Sat, February 24

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Volunteer Art Show!

Arts & Entertainment Green

Sat, February 24, 10:00 AM

Municipal Court Room/Council Chambers, BERKELEY HEIGHTS

Return Berkeley Heights Public Library's Books, ...

Other

Carousel_image_ebabe6d4e0eb6af7bda2_https---cdn.evbuc.com-images-40285364-230483587926-1-original

Sat, February 24, 3:00 PM

White Tiger Dojo, Berkeley Heights

White Tiger Dojo Hosts Trauma Response Seminar: ...

Health & Wellness

Sun, February 25

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Volunteer Art Show!

Arts & Entertainment Green

I've Always Wanted to be a Doctor...Or an English Teacher

Think about the impossibility of the task we lay in front of high school students.  In addition to getting good grades, filling up a resume, finding the right colleges and writing countless admissions essays they also need to decide on their life’s passion at 17 years old...or do they?

As a college admissions representative the first question most students would ask me was whether ...

Now That The Dust Has Settled…Smart Tax Moves In 2018

Now that the dust has settled, here are some smart tax moves to lower your taxes and/or avoid higher taxes/penalties in 2018. These steps may be especially helpful if you live in high property and high income tax states (e.g. New Jersey, New York, California) since state and local tax deductions are capped.  Unfortunately all these changes mean you’ll need more time and energy to ...

Invest Like a Tortoise -- Not Like a Hare

Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare” is a perfect metaphor for the way people go about investing their money. As you recall in the fable, the hare brags about his ability to beat the tortoise and is overly confident about winning. In the investment world, the hare is someone who thinks he or she is great at selecting “winners” and avoiding “losers.” The ...