Burnt Hills Nick Delpopolo and Kyle Vashkulat competed at last Saturday’s Morris Cup judo tournament at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School with something greater in the back of their minds: an Olympic medal.
The two Jason Morris Judo Center students qualified for the United States Olympic judo team at separate events over the last five weeks. Vashkulat earned his spot by placing fifth at the Pan American Championships April 28 in Montreal, and Delpopolo defeated Mike Eldred in a special fight-off May 12 in Miami.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Vashkulat, who will represent the U.S. in London next month in the 100-kilogram division. “You’ve worked so hard for the opportunity, and it only comes around once every four years.”
“I can’t really put it into words,” said Delpopolo. “It’s a lifelong work of dedication and sacrifice. Now, the fun part happens. I try to go after an Olympic medal.”
Delpopolo came close to missing the cut in the 73kg division. He lost to Eldred in the first match of the fight-off, which meant he had to take two out of the next three bouts in order to qualify for the U.S. team. Delpopolo and Eldred each won one bout in the series before Delpopolo threw Eldred in the final bout to win the fight-off.
“I was losing the (last) match, and then I got his leg and he tried a sacrifice throw,” said Delpopolo. “When he went for the sacrifice throw I countered it, which automatically meant that I won the match.”
“It says a lot about his character and his mental fortitude,” said coach Jason Morris, a four-time Olympian himself. “The other kid (Eldred) is a great player. It’s a shame someone had to lose.”
Vashkulat was also on the verge of missing the cut before he placed fifth in Montreal. Now, his parents are able to see him compete when they attend the Olympics – a trip that they planned to take months in advance.