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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Judo's Takata refreshed and refocused

By Dennis Anderson
Advertiser Staff Writer

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It's all coming into focus for Taylor Takata, a 2000 Iolani graduate from Wahiawa.

Over the past two weekends, Takata has won two championships in international tournaments in two countries — giving him three major titles this year and cementing his No. 1 ranking with USA Judo.

"These were pretty big wins for me, along with Pan Ams last year," Takata said yesterday. "I was pretty pleased with the way I fought."

In two more weeks, Takata will defend his 2001 Pan American Judo Union championship in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in the 60 kg (132-pound) division.

Takata is playing the best judo of his life, and an injury-forced, nearly two-month break in training last summer may actually have helped.

"I was kind of getting burned out after two trips to Europe, the senior nationals (his other championship this year), and a South American tour," he said. "I sprained the MCL (medial collateral ligament) in my left knee in camp and they sent me home to rest in June."

It had been judo, judo, judo — 30 to 35 hours a week — since he became a resident member of the U.S. National Team at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., in June 2001. "It takes a lot of discipline to do that stuff," Takata said.

"It was a good break to get away from judo last summer," he said. "When I came back (Aug. 9) I was able to focus more on training and all that."

So focused was Takata that "he was dominating throughout his side of the bracket" in the U.S. Open Tournament in Las Vegas, Oct. 10-13, said John Miller, spokesman for USA Judo.

Although it is called the U.S. Open, it's one of the biggest international tournaments, Takata said, and included players from more than a half-dozen countries in the Americas and Europe.

Takata defeated former national champion Dynell Pinder, who is ranked No. 2 in the USA, in the final by the slimmest margin (shido) of one penalty point.

It was Takata's first U.S. Open championship following a second-place finish in 2001 and third in 2000.

Last weekend's Rendez Vous tournament at Montreal also drew an international field, but not as large as the U.S. Open. Takata used a kataguruma (fireman's carry) to defeat USA teammate David Young of Chicago in the final.

The two victories have increased Takata's USA Judo point total for the past year to 29.5, more than double that of second-place Pinder. If he places at the Pan Ams, he will qualify for a stipend from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

The maximum stipend is $2,500 per month and Takata won't get that much, but any amount will help. Although his room and board are free at the Olympic Training Center and part of his costs of being a student at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs are paid through the Olympic Scholarship Program, he still has to pay $3,500 a year in tuition plus incidental costs.

"Financing our kids' judo has kept us poor," says Takata's mother, Mae.

Besides earning the stipend, an incentive for Takata at the Pan Ams, Nov. 8-10, are holidays at home. "If I do well, hopefully I can come home for Christmas," he said. "If I don't, I may have to enter events in Korea and Europe. It depends on how I finish."

For next year, Takata is pointing for the World Championships in Osaka, Japan. "I want to make that team," he said.

And the year after that, 2004, the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Takata will be 22. "In judo, a lot of players hit their peak at 26 or 27," he said.

Despite his No. 1 ranking, making the Olympic team 18 months from now is not a lock, judo spokesman Miller said. "There are two or three others who will push him — younger kids coming up and Pinder (whom Takata unseated as No. 1). 60kg is a very highly contested division."

Takata remains focused. Earning a medal in the Olympic Games, either 2004 or 2008, is his ultimate goal.

NOTES: In the U.S. Open Championships in Las Vegas, Oct. 10-13, two other players from Hawai'i placed. Scott Pak of Shobukan Judo Club was fifth at 66kg and Christian A'arona of Kamehameha Alumni was ninth at 100kg. Pak defeated former 60kg national champion Nathan Torra and wrestlers from Great Britain and Chile before losing the bronze medal match to Melven Mendez of Puerto Rico. ... Morgan Koyama, National Collegiate runner-up of Hawaii Tokai International College, lost his first-round 66kg match and was eliminated . ... Mark Muranaka, head judo instructor of Mililani YMCA and Mililani Hongwanji Judo Club, lost his first-round 55kg match and was eliminated. ... 2000 Olympian, Amy Tong (78 kg), a former Hawai'i resident, did not compete. She is at home in San Jose, Calif., recovering from rotator cuff surgery in July.