RIO DE JANEIRO — Westfield native Nick Delpololo would not let a pot brownie define him. That was the mantra the Olympic-bound Judo fighter repeated over and over again to the hordes of media he spoke to in the weeks leading up to the Rio games. From The New York Times to a small town paper in upstate New York where he once lived and trained, Delpololo never let that theme slip far away from him.
Monday was Delpopolo’s day on the mats in Rio, where he was able to redeem himself from the 2012 games he was kicked out from after testing positive for cannabis. (Delpopolo has said that he mistakenly ate a pot brownie at a family party.) His 7th place finish Monday in the 73 kg class featured an upset over No. 9 Odbayar Ganbaatar of Mongolia and a close loss against No. 4 Sagi Muki of Israel.
“I had a good day,” said Delpopolo at his post-competition press conference. “This was the top of the mountain. If I can compete at this level going through what I’ve gone through, I think I can do it again.”
Delpololo’s goal was to better the 7th place finish he would have had in the last games had he not been disqualified. Still, the day was thrilling for him and judo fans around the world who watched the American fight in repechage for a spot in the bronze-medal match. He eventually lost to Hungary’s Milkos Ungvari by penalty. Both players received a shido at 2:08, with the deciding one going against Delpopolo for non-combativity at 3:20.
“His grips were better than mine. He generated more offense than I did,” Delpopolo said. “That’s why I got the second shido to his one. That’s what won him the fight.”
Delpopolo started his competition by defeating Ahmed Goumar of Niger by ippon at 4:34 in the round of 32. He followed that with the round of 16 upset of Mongolia’s Odbayar Ganbaatar by wazari in the golden score period.
“The first round was a good warm-up match to get my feet wet on the Olympic stage,” Delpopolo said. “And then in the second round it was good to know I could dig deep. The second match was a good one for me because he was completely different. It was mostly penalty, penalty, penalty, exhaustion, exhaustion, penalty, penalty and staying mentally tough enough to try and find a way to win.”
Now that Delpopolo has had the positive experience that he was hoping for in Rio, his goal is to fight again in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, where judo is considered to have originated. Delpopolo said that in Tokyo he is hoping that judo will not be a sport on the fringes of the Olympics, where it normally is, and will get the coverage and attention that it deserves.
“Judo is my passion,” Delpopolo said. “For me, I’m hoping the best is yet to come. I would like to think I have a lot left in me.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org