OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
José Armenteros (top) is among the top 100kg judokas in the world and hopes to climb the Olympic podium in Río de Janeiro. Photo: International Judo Federation

José Armenteros (born December 13, 1992), explains that having made it to the top of the judo 100kg division is simply a result of sacrifice and daily dedication to training, together with the support of the technical collective and his teammates. However, he wants more. Armenteros is seeking to inscribe his name at the Olympic level, with Río de Janeiro presenting the possibility of immediate glory.

The judoka from Cienfuegos, measuring 1.90 meters, is currently 11th in the world rankings for his category (1,084 points accumulated in 16 tournaments), which are headed by German Karl-Richard Frey (1,952).

Having burst onto the scene to take the gold medal at the Judo World Junior Championship in Capetown 2011, Armenteros finished in second place at the World Judo Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia 2014.

After an intense session of randori (free practice) with two different partners, the judoka still had the energy to enthusiastically respond to questions from Granma:

When did you start practicing judo?

I started aged 11 in Cienfuegos, in my municipality of Rodas, at that time there was no judo at the grassroots level. I had previously dabbled in taekwondo, where I got my first medal under the guidance of the instructor Melbys. Affer that I changed, I played some ball...until I landed in judo. I believe that everything that happens to us in life does so for a reason. I always try to evolve.

Your main strengths as a judoka?

Firstly discipline and responsibility, important building blocks, both in sports and my personal life. My effectiveness is focused on shoulder techniques, my height helps. I have managed to master these on both sides of my body. At the highest level you have to seek to expand the variants.

When you have confidence in something, sometimes you do it involuntarily. Also our opponents study us and we are directing efforts toward incorporating leg techniques and combinations with hip movements, so that we have several options to respond to specific combat situations.

The Pan American Championships in Havana (April 27-30) will offer 400 points for the winners in each weight category. What are your expectations?

I have won at the previous two Pan American editions, there are always serious rivals, such as the Brazilian Luciano Correia, world champion, and a Canadian who has improved greatly in recent times. Combat sports are very complex and in judo actions materialize in fractions of seconds.

What is the importance of incorporating beach training sessions at this stage?

This is critical for us, because we work a lot with the lower body (legs, knees, hips). We can’t miss these sessions, to strengthen our joints, we were requesting them.

Tell me about relations with your teammates, and any judo idol you have?

From the beginning I was always fixated on Oreidis Despaigne, two times world bronze medalist and eight time continental champion. He spent 14 years in the national team and a dozen of those in the role of captain. An example for any judoka, my mirror in our division, he helped me a lot, I'll always be grateful to him.

Today I have a solid friendship with Asley González (90kg), in fact he is my favorite partner for randori. Then there is Andy Granda, who has shown a lot of progress and that's admirable.

A particularly difficult opponent?

For me, they are all dangerous, either for being left or right-handed, for performing very effectively in a given tournament. The essence is to dedicate your resources and five senses to securing the victory.

What does Justo Noda represent for you and the rest of the group?
Prof. Justo is like a father, a teacher in personal life and the sport. One should always see his reflection beyond judo. Advice, demands, emotion, he takes you to another level. That's the best way to understand his guidance.

After a world medal, were your Olympic expectations raised?

I have big goals planned. That will be my greatest achievement, to do well for myself, my family, the people who are always abreast of our results.

In fact, I proudly experienced this at the Grand Prix of Havana. I always look forward to providing that thrill to all who follow and encourage us, but sometimes for different reasons it can’t happen. That's when you have to draw strength to work twice as hard. Sport is complex, difficult, behind a result there are many small details.

In my spare time I could describe myself as addicted to animals. I belong to the Pigeon-Fancier Society of Cienfuegos, I compete with homing pigeons.

That's my world outside the tatami. My family is essential to everything, my driving force, my mother, my father. My grandmother died three months ago, but I could give her a result.

ORIGINS AND RULES OF COMBAT

Judo is a martial art that originated in Japan around 1880. Its creator was Jigoro Kano, who combined diverse movements of other styles and wrote the rules based on Jujitsu, the art of attack and defense using nothing but one’s own body.

Although Kano founded the first school in 1882, it was not until 1951 that the International Judo Federation was formed. Inclusion at the Olympic Games took place at the 1964 Tokyo edition.

However, judo did not feature at Mexico City in 1968. Its definitive return occurred in Munich in 1972, while women judokas were included under the five rings two decades later in Barcelona.

Cuba is fifth on the historic Olympic medal table with a total of six gold, 13 silver and 16 bronze medals, behind Japan at the top (34-18-18), followed by France (12-8-24), South Korea (11-14-15) and China ( 8-3-9).

Matches last up to five minutes for men and up to four minutes for women, and are performed on synthetic tatami mats. The objective is to throw the opponent down on his back, ending with an armbar or choke, or immobilizing him/her on the floor.

When the fight ends in a draw, the contest continues into a “Golden Score” period, where whoever scores first wins the match. If the total points and penalties of both judokas remain equal, the referee decides.

A total of 386 tatami warriors will compete in the wonderful city of Río de Janeiro, at the Carioca Arena 2 stadium in the Barra neighborhood. Cuba hopes to send close to a dozen fighters, five females and as many males. This will be Armenteros’ Olympic debut and we trust he will do so in style.