Vashkulat realizes Olympic dream
May 01, 2012 (Menafn - Times Union - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --A lot of sweat went into Kyle Vashkulat's Olympic hopes, and it didn't end when he left the mat Friday after competing in the Pan Am Judo Championships in Montreal.
Vashkulat, who trains at the Jason Morris Judo Center in Glenville, would have clinched a spot on the U.S. Olympic team by winning a medal in Montreal. He lost the bronze-medal match and settled for fifth place, sending the calculators into motion.
"It was like the NFL playoffs at the end," said Morris, a four-time Olympian who won a silver medal in 1992 at Barcelona. "There were so many mathematical scenarios."
The Olympic berth came down to a wild card, which goes to the U.S. player with the most world-ranking points -- regardless of weight class or gender -- not already in the top 22 in the world rankings. So it wasn't until the following day that Vashkulat realized his dream.
"The way it worked out," Vashkulat said, "if this girl (Angelica Delgado of Miami) did not make the final of her division, I was going to be on the team. She lost in the last 10 seconds of her match. I came that close to not making it."
Now Vashkulat, a graduate of Burnt Hills High School, can put his full attention on the Summer Olympics, which take place July 27 to Aug. 12 in London.
"It feels like it's a ways away," Vashkulat said, "but the Olympics are 80-some days away. It's going to fly by. Once it really hits me, it's going to be very exciting."
Vashkulat, who will compete in the 100kg (220 pounds) weight division, was born in Kiev, Ukraine. When he was 9, his family moved to Langhorne, Pa., where he joined a judo club and began to learn the sport.
Eager to develop his skills to a worldwide level, he connected with Morris' school.
"I have high hopes for pretty much every kid who comes through the door," Morris said. "None of them are really special when you see them. It all unfolds on how hard they work, how willing they are to do what they're told."
At 21, Vashkulat will be the youngest judoka on the U.S. team, which will have only five members -- half the number of 2008 -- because of a new qualification system.
The Morris Judo Center could get a second Olympian if Nick Delpopolo, a Burnt Hills alum now living in Amsterdam, wins a fight-off against another ranked American on May 12 in Miami.
"Life-changing" is how Vashkulat describes his making the team. "It's always been my dream to make the Olympic team, and now that I actually did, hopefully I can bring back a medal for the U.S."
No American has ever won gold in judo. Morris is one of only three to win silver.
Still, the Olympics serve as judo's once-every-four-years time in the spotlight.
"In the States, judo is not a very popular sport," Vashkulat said. "Any time you get a chance to represent your country and everyone gets very patriotic, it's nice. The U.S. loves their athletes, whether it's judo or basketball. You do get to put judo out there, and people maybe learn about it a bit."
Added Morris: "It's your one opportunity, possibly in your entire career, to make not only a name for yourself, but a splash for our sport."
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