Ukraine boycotts Olympic judo qualifier as Russians compete

Madina Taimazova,
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Ukraine has begun a boycott of international judo events because the Russian team was allowed to compete as Olympic qualification began on Friday.

Judo is one of the few Olympic sports in which Russians can still compete, though they must do so without their flag and are officially representing the International Judo Federation. That goes against the wishes of the International Olympic Committee, which recommends excluding athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Until this week, Russia stayed away from international judo events citing what the IJF termed “logistics and safety” concerns, but it entered 24 athletes in the Grand Slam tournament in Mongolia which started on Friday. That’s the first competition which counts toward qualification for the Paris Olympics in 2024.

Ukraine is staying away in protest.

“Everybody who follows world sport a small way understands that Russian athletes are a key part of this country’s aggressive propaganda politics,” Ukrainian Judo Federation president Mykhailo Koshliak wrote in an open letter dated Thursday.

“Speaking of Russia and sport, it is by no means possible to say that ‘sport is out of politics.’ The silence of Russian and Belarusian athletes and coaches supports the war against Ukraine and kills thousands of Ukrainian citizens.”

Koshliak alleged 11 of the Russian team competing in Mongolia were “active representatives of the Russian Armed Forces” and held military ranks. They include Madina Taimazova, who was congratulated by the Russian Defense Ministry in a statement after she won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year, with her rank listed as that of warrant officer.

The IJF has argued it is preventing discrimination by allowing the Russians to continue competing and said on Thursday it would punish any athlete who displays “political vindication or unsportsmanlike attitude.”

“The International Judo Federation is against war, against any kind of violence, as well as hate and discrimination,” IJF general director Vlad Marinescu said in a statement. “Sport is not politics, sport is a bridge between different cultures. Our values are the values of sport, where there is no room for politics.”

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Nina Cutro-Kelly to become oldest U.S. Olympic judoka in history

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When USA Judo announced the final U.S. Olympic judo team on Monday, two athletes were added to squad that will compete in Tokyo and it became clear one would make history.

Nina Cutro-Kelly is set to become the oldest U.S. judoka in the sport’s 57-year Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At 36 years and 217 days when the women’s +78kg category competes on July 30, Cutro-Kelly will be some 34 days older than Celita Schutz was at the Athens 2004 Olympics, her third and final Games.

Only three women from any nation have been older than Cutro-Kelly when competing in judo at the Olympics, the leader being Ecuador’s Carmen Chalá who was 42 in 2008.

Cutro-Kelly is a veteran of the sport, competing internationally since 2008 and winning five medals at Pan American championships or Games in that time, but the 10-time U.S. champion will make her Olympic debut in a few weeks.

She and Nefeli Papadakis were awarded Olympic spots in judo’s reallocation process.

Papadakis is ranked No. 30 in the 78kg class in the International Judo Federation’s Olympic ranking, and Cutro-Kelly No. 32.

The 22-year-old Papadakis, whose father emigrated from Greece to attend college in the U.S., is a three-time reigning national champion and three-time continental championship medalist.

2016 Olympians Angelica Delgado, 52kg, and Colton Brown, 90kg, had previously qualified.

The four-person team is the U.S.’ smallest since women’s judo was added to the Olympic program in 1992.

Judo will return to its birthplace of Japan, where it also made its Olympic debut in 1964, this year with seven men’s and seven women’s events, plus an inaugural mixed team event. The U.S. is not entered in mixed team as it requires three men and three women.

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Correction: An earlier version of this post had incorrect numbers for Cutro-Kelly’s Pan American medals and U.S. titles.

U.S. judo athletes qualify for Tokyo Olympics

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Angelica Delgado and Colton Brown are the first Americans to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in judo.

Delgado and Brown, both Rio Olympians, qualified via world rankings published Tuesday.

USA Judo hopes that a third athlete, Nefeli Papadakis, will qualify through an invitation process that ends July 3.

Delgado, a 30-year-old who lost her first-round match in Rio, is the highest-ranked American at 20th in the 52kg division. She is a first-generation American born to Cuban immigrants.

Brown, a 29-year-old who made the second round in Rio, is ranked 28th in the men’s 90kg division.

The U.S.’ smallest Olympic judo roster since women’s events were added in 1992 was five for the 2012 London Games, according to Olympedia.org.

It earned at least one judo medal at the last four Olympics, including Kayla Harrison‘s golds in 2012 and 2016 and Ronda Rousey‘s bronze in 2008. Both turned to MMA after their Olympic careers.

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