Dad, brother score assists in Pedro win
ATHENS, Greece -- Jimmy Pedro didn't exactly follow dad's orders. But Pedro got his post-match hug anyway.
"This is why I came back," said Pedro, who won seven matches Monday, including a win over world silver medalist Daniel Fernandes of France in a consolation round final. "Everything I wished for happened today."
It's difficult to believe Pedro wished for everything that happened on Monday. Though Pedro became the first U.S. judo fighter to win two medals in the Olympics, the 33-year-old was one of four fighters relegated to the play-in round by the blind draw used to determine the tournament's seeding. Not only did he have to fight an extra match to advance but also he was in the same bracket as South Korea's Won Hee Lee, the reigning world champion.
And that wasn't all. Pedro also had previously suffered losses to the two fighters he would face before Lee.
Pedro avenged himself against the first two, but lost to Lee, the eventual gold medalist, in his third match of the day. In the consolation bracket, Pedro needed four more wins for a medal.
Pedro didn't expect it would be easy. He never has.
Pedro retired from judo after the 2000 Games in Sydney, his third Olympics. He had entered the tournament as the reigning world champion and was expected to become the first American to win a gold medal. It was the same expectation he carried into the 1996 Games in Atlanta, where he won the bronze. Back then, finishing third was more than acceptable. But finishing fifth in Sydney wasn't even close.
Two years later, after witnessing speedskater Derek Parra receive his gold medal for winning the 1,500 meters at the medal plaza at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, Pedro knew he had unfinished business. He called his wife, Marie, to tell her the decision he had just made.
"This is awesome," he remembers telling her. "I'd really like to give this one last shot."
His dad, an alternate on the U.S. judo team for the 1976 Olympics, saw it coming, too. And after watching his son lose in Sydney to Anatoly Laryukov of Belarus, Jim Pedro Sr. also realized his son struggled against the Russian style, which is more physical than tactical.
So the father, who runs a judo training center with his son, enlisted the help of judo fighters young and old, any aspiring fighters who trained at their gym and retired ones who knew methods of every influence around the world. Pedro Sr. made sure they pushed Jimmy around. Most of all, he made sure Jimmy, who's slightly smaller than European fighters, had the endurance to withstand a long, grueling match.
Also enlisted was Jimmy's little brother, Mike. A soon-to-be junior and captain of the wrestling team at Brown University, just like Jimmy had been, it was time for Mike to help his older brother forge new footsteps rather than follow in them.
Pedro flew Mike to Athens to serve as his training partner. When the draw placed Pedro in the same bracket as Laryukov, their dad made Mike wrestle like the Belarussian in practice. Dad wanted his son prepared in case Jimmy faced Laryukov, a bronze medalist in Sydney, again.
And he was. Pedro beat Laryukov in Golden Score -- judo's equivalent of sudden-death overtime -- in the first match of the consolation bracket. Soon after, Pedro needed the full five minutes to beat Ukraine's Gennadly Bilodid, another product of the Russian influence. Again, his family's training paid off; Bilodid had beaten Pedro in the final of the Hungarian Open last February.
Not many fighters in the world can fight a Golden Score match and come back in 15 minutes and win again. Pedro did.
"For a 33-year-old guy, it's been a long morning," said Pedro, who's older than all but one of his seven opponents -- Laryukov beats him by a month -- Monday.
Pedro Sr. is a strong, stoic man, his white hair framing a no-nonsense face. Jimmy could feel his dad on the verge of tears as the two embraced.
"When he's choked up," Pedro said, "That's when you know you've done good."
Mike, who's 12 years younger than Jimmy, said he was an emotional mess all night.
And Marie? She got another phone call.