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U.S. Open wins move new judo athletes into No. 1 rankings

Five athletes earned new #1 rankings on the USA Judo Senior Elite National Roster following their medal wins over the weekend at the U.S. Open Championships in Duluth, Ga.

U.S. athletes competing at the Open were fighting not only for gold, but also for valuable points toward berths at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Judo, June 13-14 in Las Vegas.

Although athletes will not be announced for the Trials until April 13, the U.S. Open was a large enough point tournament that players who reached the podium could virtually guarantee themselves trips to the Trials.

Also at stake was jockeying for the #1 position on the roster. While seeding at events is always important, whomever is the top seed in each division at the Trials will have a significant advantage over his or her opponents as if the #1 athlete wins the Trials, he or she is nominated to the Team. If that athlete loses a match, he or she then earns the right to a best-of-three fight-off with the winner of the Trials.

Taylor Takata (Colorado Springs, Colo./USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) won a silver medal at the Open which moved him from #2 up to #1 in the 66kg division, overtaking Justin Flores (Glenville, N.Y./USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) who moved down to #2. Flores, the 2006 U.S. Open silver medalist, did not compete at the Open over the weekend, but is expected to be back in action this coming weekend at the Rendez-Vous Canada in Montreal .

Travis Stevens (Glenville, N.Y./USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) and Aaron Cohen (Buffalo Grove, Ill./ NYAC / Cohen’s Judo) were ranked first and second going into the weekend in the 81kg division. Just like at the 2006 U.S. Open, both athletes went undefeated on their respective sides of the draw to advance to the final where Cohen beat Stevens to win his first U.S. Open title, avenging his loss in last year’s final. The win moved Cohen ahead of Stevens who moved down to #2.

Rick Hawn (Wakefield, Mass./USA Judo National Team FORCE) may have been the third highest ranking American in the 90kg division at the Open, but after consistent placings at tournaments throughout the year, his bronze medal was all Hawn needed to advance to the #1 ranking in the division, moving one point ahead of Garry St. Leger (Brooklyn, N.Y./NYAC/Starrett Judo) who moved down to #2.

Katie Mocco (Glenville, N.Y./NYAC/USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) advanced to the finals in her new 78kg division after being a former National Champion and Pan Am medalist at 70kg. Coming into the event as the third-ranked player in the United States, Mocco’s silver medal win moved her into the #1 ranking in the division. Former #1 Marina Lambert (Chesapeake, Va./ Washington Judo), a 2006 U.S. Open medalist, did not compete this weekend and, consequently, lost her B-Level status and fell to the #4 ranking in the division.

Heidi Moore (Englewood, Colo./Denver Judo) entered the Open as the #2 seed in the +78kg division and advanced to the final where she fought 18-year-old top seed Brittni Bradford (Live Oak, Texas / Universal Judo). Moore won the match giving her the gold and the #1 ranking.

Other athletes making significant moves on the roster include:

* Brian Olson (Boulder, Colo./NYAC/USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) moved up to #3 in the 90kg division after winning gold at the U.S. Open. Olson, who retired after the 2004 Olympic Games, is attempting to qualify for his fourth consecutive Olympic Team, and was competing in his first tournament out of retirement.

* Thirty-four-year-old James “Brewster? Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./San Jose State University Alumni) placed fifth in the +100kg division – a finish high enough to move him into the #6 ranking in the United States. Thompson, a member of the 1975 World Team and six-time Senior Nationals medalist, is a professional entertainer and ventriloquist who is often billed as “the world’s strongest jump roper.?

* Natalie Lafon (Harlingen, Texas/USA Judo National Training Site at Harlingen) just moved down from 52kg to 48kg over the summer and placed fifth in her new division, moving her into the #4 ranking.

* Anna Palmer (Colorado Springs, Colo./USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) moved from #4 to #2 in the 52kg division when she won a silver medal – her first at the U.S. Open. Although only ranked #2, Palmer is the highest actively competing athlete in the division just behind Franchesca Durand (Coral Springs, Fla.) who is not presently competing.

* Carrie Chandler (Glenville, N.Y./NYAC/USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) competed in her first point tournament since moving up to 57kg after fighting in the 52kg division at the World Championship in September. A 2004 Olympic Team alternate in the heavier division, Chandler won bronze and instantly moved up to #2 behind Pan Am Champion Valerie Gotay (Harlingen, Texas /USA Judo National Training Site at Harlingen).

* Kayla Harrison (Wakefield , Mass./ NYAC/USA Judo National Team FORCE) moved up to #2 in the 63kg division after winning her first U.S. Open title. Harrison, a silver medalist in the 70kg division last year, is ranked behind Ronda Rousey (Wakefield , Mass./ NYAC/ USA Judo National Team FORCE); however Rousey is no longer competing in the division, having moved up to 70kg earlier this year.

* Thirty-year-old Christian Aarona (Waimanalo, Hawaii/Makiki Seidokan Judo Club) competed in the 100kg division, winning a bronze medal after a sabbatical of several years and moving into the division’s #2 slot. Aarona was the highest placing American in the division and defeated 2004 U.S. Olympic Team alternate Mark Fletcher (Atlanta, Ga./ Ultimate Challenge Judo) before throwing top-ranked Adler Volmar (Coral Springs, Fla./USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami) for one of the day’s largest ippons.