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Former wrestler Jimmy Pedro ends judo career without an Olympic gold, but with class



Today's newspaper will tell you that Jimmy Pedro, a former wrestler, placed fifth at the Olympic Games in judo at 73 kg. There's much more to that story. There always is. Pedro was a wrestling champion at St. John Prep in Massachusetts and participated with USA Wrestling. He went on to a strong college career at Brown University, competing for coach Dave Amato. He was team captain and won an Eastern collegiate wrestling title. Pedro was a very good wrestler. But he was always a special judo player. In U.S. judo circles, Jimmy Pedro is a legend. He's the man. In 1999, he won a gold medal at the World Championships, only the third U.S. athlete to do so. He was an Olympic bronze medalist in 1996 and also boasts two other World bronzes. No other judo athlete from the USA has ever been so successful. His career stats make him a sure Hall of Famer in his sport, a trailblazer, a hero. Pedro was a gold medal favorite in Sydney. The U.S. judo world had high hopes that someone would finally win a gold medal at the Olympics for the United States. The U.S. has won 10 judo medals but no golds. Jimmy was going to break down the barriers, capture the golden fleece, win that first Olympic title. The media also caught on. They liked Pedro for his positive personality and classy approach to his passion for judo. They liked the idea of history in the making. Today was his chance for glory. Judo completes its weight classes in one day. And in the very first round, the dream died. A Korean athlete, fighting a very conservative match, beat Pedro, with an illegal grip penalty in the closing seconds the deciding factor. Fate had dealt Pedro a blow, and everyone was crushed. When the Korean athlete reached the semifinals by beating an Olympic champion, Pedro was suddenly pig-tailed back into the draw. A bronze medal was still possible. And Pedro responded, pulling himself out of the ashes of his Olympic dreams to rise again. He won four straight matches with dominance, including a victory over the 1996 Olympic champion. He was suddenly hot, the Jimmy Pedro everyone knew and expected at the Olympic Games. The legend had returned. And he still had a chance for some history, by becoming the first U.S. judo athlete to win two career Olympic medals. And just as suddenly as the hope had returned, it vanished. In the bronze-medal match, the rival from Belarus tossed Pedro for an ippon, judo's pin, an instant victory. Pedro's medal was gone, just like that. It showed, once again, just how difficult winning an Olympic title really is. Only a select and lucky few ever get to reach that pinnacle of success and wear that Olympic gold medal. An Olympic title should never, ever be taken for granted. So many athletes, well worthy of the honor, fall short on the Olympic stage. It happened to Pedro, and it will happen time and time again throughout these Olympic Games. In spite of his despair, Pedro did his mandatory interviews and told his story. He had no excuses, just disappointment from a tough day on the mats. He was as impressive a person in defeat as in victory. It was his last major international tournament, the end of his career. He was going to spend more time with his family and start a new life. And he had no Olympic gold medal to show for it. What he does have is class, and an entire community of friends and supporters who appreciate him as a champion. The U.S. judo community is extremely proud of Jimmy Pedro. But remember, he is also a wrestler. Wrestling was a big part of his success in judo and in life. The wrestling community should also be proud of him. I know I am.
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