Idalys Ortiz has seen a positive balance sheet in 2016 with ten victories and just two losses. Photo: Ismael Batista

The Pan American Judo Championships came to an end in Havana on April 30, with Brazil once again coming out on top (7 gold, 4 silver and 6 bronze medals), this time with Canada in second place (2-5-3), followed by the United States (2-2-1) and Cuba (2-1-8). The intense program on the tatami mat continues apace in this final qualifying stretch on the road to the Olympic Games in Río de Janeiro.

With barely time to catch their breath, on May 3 the dozen Cuban judokas immersed in the battle for a ticket to the upcoming Games left for Europe, to compete in the Judo Grand Slam in Baku (May 6-8), and the Grand Prix in Almaty (May 13-15), in order to maintain or improve their positions in the rankings.

These competitions will be even more demanding for the disciples of Armando Padrón and Justo Noda, given that as well as the participation of several judokas who won medals at the Ciudad Deportiva in Havana, also competing will be fighters from Europe and Asia, all aiming to finish among the top 16 scorers in each division, in order to have the final opportunity to secure their ticket to Río at the World Masters in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Armando Padrón, coach of the female team, was satisfied with their performance in Havana: “They showed aggressiveness, are adapting to the quest for variations in order to respond to tactical combat situations against elite opponents, and technically we are attempting to diversify their game.

“This tournament was high quality. Brazil, Canada and the United States brought their best figures and the rivalry was evident. Maricet Espinosa (63kg) and Yalennis Castillo (78kg) fought hard even though they were still in the midst of a recovery process following injuries and physically they were up to the fight. In that sense we are grateful for the monitoring and meticulous work of doctors Liván and Anido, who have not failed to follow each of them,” he added.

The Cuban women’s team failed to match their previous performance, when they saw a total of 14 medals (4 gold, 2 silver, 8 bronze), and except in the case of the London 2012 Olympic champion Idalys Ortiz (+78kg), the remaining judokas lost out to their Brazilian counterparts. However, it is worth mentioning José Armenteros’ performance (100kg), who secured four ippons, with none of his opponents able to resist his attacks for more than two and a half minutes, including in the final against Canadian Kyle Reyes, who previously beat the experienced Brazilian Luciano Correa.

It’s worth taking a look at how the Cuban teams measure up in the rankings following the continental competition, given that each nation can only send one judoka to Río, with the first 14 women in each weight category and the first 21 men securing a ticket. If the same country appears in these spots more than once, the judoka in the lower position is left out and the list shifts.

Dayaris Mestre (928 points) appears in 13th place in the 48kg division; Maricet Espinosa (872) is 14th in the 63kg; Onix Cortés (699) has the most work to do in 23rd place

José Armenteros hopes to conclude his rise to the top with a medal in Río. Photo: Ismael Batista

in the 70kg division; Yalennis Castillo (665) is 14th in the 78kg; and Idalys (2,326) secured second place in the rankings for the +78kg category.

Meanwhile, among the men Magdiel Estrada (662) is in position 20 of the 73kg; Iván Silva (591) is 24th in the 81kg; Asley González (1,232) preserved his 11th place despite not fighting in the 90kg division due to slight discomfort in his right shoulder; Armenteros (1,484) rose to 10th place in the 100kg; and Alex García (672) is 19th in the rankings for the +100kg.


Idalys: “I am very happy I won in front of my people. This is my 15th Pan-American title. After so many years as a judoka it’s the first time I have won a continental title in my country. These points reinforce me in second place in the rankings, a very important statistic.

“I also dedicate this win to my great teacher Ronaldo Veitía, who although retired still accompanies me,” Idalys said, who glanced toward her teacher as she raised her arms in victory.

“After Río de Janeiro I will step away from the tatami to begin a new stage of motherhood.

“In this final stretch we should not be careless in the qualifying process, personally my spot is almost guaranteed, but that’s not the case for the rest of the team.

“For us it is always good to compete, but in my case it would not be recommendable to give it my all now, as many opponents are determined to defeat an Olympic champion.

“But seeking to raise the level of my game and train hard for the optimal sporting form can also pay off,” she said.

Armenteros: “This performance is the expression of rigorous work in training, the support of the collective.

"I went out seeking a result and I got it. Now I will seek to maintain my position and win more points before the qualification closes in the two tournaments in Europe and the World Masters in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“This series has been my takeoff, I will try to continue with this philosophy to Río.

“We are seeking technical variations, to diversify moves and surprise rivals, who know my strength with shoulder throws. The dream of every athlete is to climb the podium there (in Río).

“I'm focused and giving it everything, luckily almost two months of training on sand served to strengthen most aspects and my joints, and allowed me to forget somewhat my ankle injuries, which had been dragging on,” he noted.

Yuri Alvear (representing Colombia in the 70kg) : “This tournament (the Pan American Judo Championships in Havana) had a tremendous standard, it was not only important for me to reach the 400 points awarded with the gold medal, it also meant seeing rivals such as Cuban Onix Cortés (whom she defeated by yuko and equaled her historical five victories), the world and several times Pan American medalist, and Canada's Kelita Zupancic, who has raised her game and is participating in many competitions,” the Colombian said, who is seeking to repeat or surpass her bronze medal of London 2012, and has been training with a Japanese coach for several years.

“There are many strong women in my category, with each I must plot a particular strategy, fortunately so far training has gone well and I have not suffered any injuries or interruptions,” she said.

Thiago Camilo (from Brazil): “I came to Havana not only in search of victory, but also aiming to fight against Asley González, whenever I come up against him it is a great test. He is one of the best in the world and I greatly admire him. Unfortunately, it was not to be. For me the 90kg is one of the toughest divisions in the circuit. Now it remains for me to put all my energies toward the Olympics, strongly prepare myself physically and psychologically, take care of my body, visualize other opponents in the Masters in Guadalajara, this is a priority of our federation and for me personally. Any evaluation and test against elite opponents is very important.”

The impressions of several top judokas from this side of the Atlantic. They are all clear on one thing: to reach the Olympic Games in Río de Janeiro there can be no respite or setbacks from this point onward.