FT. WORTH, TX — Since the middle of March, the two-time Olympian Nick Delpopolo was strictly quarantining at his home in Ft. Worth, Texas. As the restrictions were lifted in the state, he resumed judo training with four teammates who were also following the same guidelines.
For Delpopolo, 31, associating with random people was not on his radar. That all changed on the morning of May 27 at 6 a.m. when a United States Anti Doping Agency control officer appeared at Delpopolo’s home to administer a random drug test.
“First, the agent wasn’t wearing gloves when he came in,” said Delpopolo, who noted the agent was wearing a mask. “He was 67-years-old [he told me] and the government puts out a statement that anyone over 65 needs to be taking extreme caution.”
Delpopolo begrudgingly took the test out of fear that it would be counted as a missed one, which can lead to a suspension of up to two years, if more are skipped in the future. In addition, Delpopolo said that with the 2020 games in Tokyo being postponed until next summer and with no competitions taking place in any Olympic sport in the world now, he didn’t understand the necessity of a test that could jeopardize his health and others.
He plans on visiting his elderly parents and sister, Helen Delpopolo, in Westfield in the near future. His dad has underlying health issues, including diabetes, surviving cancer and heart problems. He is very concerned about infecting his parents with COVID-19.
“I can’t go to the movies now,” said Delpopolo. “But I can have a 67-year-old stranger come into my house and into my bathroom with me as I pee into a cup and hand it to him. I don’t know how many other people’s bathrooms he’s been in.”
Delpopolo has a complicated testing history with USADA dating back to the 2012 Olympics in London. He tested positive for cannabis in London and was sent home before the closing ceremonies. He would have had a respectable 7th place finish had he not tested positive.
He said that he had accidentally eaten a pot brownie. A few months after the 2012 games, USADA stopped testing for marijuana in and out of the competition. Since his international career began as 16-year-old in 2006 he has never had another failed drug test. In the 2016 Olympics in Rio, he completed his remarkable comeback story where this time around he officially registered a 7th place finish.
According to a statement on the USADA website, they are only doing “mission-critical” testing during the pandemic for athletes in sports still competing and “for those preparing for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
Delpopolo is currently ranked 70th in the world in his weight class, thus even based on his present international status he is a long shot to make the next Olympic squad. The USADA's press office did not respond to TAPinto Westfield's requests to comment for this story.
For now, Delpopolo is left wondering why he was selected. Before agreeing to be tested, he spoke with a supervisor from the USADA from his home and, according to Delpopolo, the most information he could gather from the call was Texas was re-opened and legally they could test him. He was also told that all athletes were not being treated equally.
“I don’t think they are targeting me,” said Delpopolo. “I think I’m just in the system, and they want to show they are getting back to work testing non-famous athletes like myself. Serena Williams has been very publicly quarantining and I’m sure she wasn’t tested. Why is someone like me who is also quarantining, able to put my friends and family at risk?”
Delpopolo will continue to work for a shot at Tokyo next summer and has aspirations to continue to compete well beyond that, even talking about the 2024 Olympics. In October, he went up in weight class to 81 kilograms (178 pounds) from 73 kilograms (161 pounds) where he had been since he was 16-years old, with the hope that the added weight will be a more natural fit for him at this point in his career.
He likes where he is now, training under Tommy Dyer, the former director of USA Judo, at the Fort Worth Judo Club. They even helped him set up an after school judo/homework program with his long time girlfriend and fellow judo champion Carrie Chandler.
Not surprisingly, it’s called Fort Worth Judo After School Program.
“I’m not the teenage phenom anymore,” said Delpopolo. “I’m the team (USA) veteran and I’m transitioning into things like starting my first business, trying to become a homeowner, and planning to have kids.”
A frequent contributor to TAPinto Westfield, Mike Cohen is the founder and director of Throwback Sports (a sports and educational program for people of all abilities) and the sports editor of Education Update. He can be reached at email@example.com.