Editor’s Note: Last year there was a
sporting event with special significance for us at EBJI,
and that was the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. I was
fortunate enough to be part of those Games, as were two
of our other dojo members, and I want to take some time
here to tell you about the Olympics, at least as how I
Actually, the road to the Olympics
started much earlier than in 1996. For me, it started in
1993, when I was appointed Chairman of the National
Coaching and Training Subcommittee and National Coaching
Staff (NCTS-NCS) of United States Judo, Inc. (USJI). In
this position, my job was to select athletes and coaches
who represented us in international training and
competition, and to set schedules and standards for
domestic training as well.
As you can imagine, this job is a very
big and important one, and I felt proud of being able to
have the opportunity to make a difference not only in the
U.S., but also internationally. I felt especially proud
that I could try to apply the principles and
understanding of Judo that we have fostered here at EBJI
to this position.
The few years I served as Chairman of
the NCTS-NCS were busy ones indeed. I selected athletes
and coaching staffs for all of our international events.
I was on one or two of these staffs every year, as I had
been for the past four years prior, and traveled out of
the country for competition often.
In 1994, I had decided that it was time
to name our coaching staff for the Olympic Games and
World Championships. The thought was to have this staff
named well ahead of time so that they could work closely
with the athletes for a couple of years, getting to know
them and finding out ways to obtain maximum performances
At the board of directors meeting in
1994, we named four coaches and one manager to the
coaching staff. As it turned out, I was voted to be the
Team Leader of both the world championships and Olympic
The Team Leader is an interesting
position. It is the person who serves as the head
administrative position of the entire delegation. Most of
my duties involved serving as an interface between our
team, USJI, and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).
I had to make sure that we were where we were supposed to
be, doing what we were supposed to do, filing the right
paperwork, and all kinds of things like that.
But, because I was also Chairman of
NCTS-NCS, I had a dual role to play. In fact, my position
was decided last, and it was because of the support I
received from the other members of the coaching staff
that I became the Team Leader. They said that they didn’t
want to work for anyone else, and I was happy about
receiving their confidence.
1995 was spent basically working with
the world championships team, taking them on the European
tour in the spring, training camps in the spring and
summer, and then to the world championships in October of
1995. We were fortunate enough to bring back two bronze
medals, one 5th place, and one 7th.
In January of 1996, we held the trials
for the Olympic team in Colorado Springs, CO. At this
tournament, all of our team members were selected. I
looked on at pride when our own Dedra Phillips won her
way to an alternate’s position in the 61 kg division.
There are strange things that occur
during competition, especially when it is a domestic
trials event. Once the winner is declared and named as
the official team member, many of the athletes seem to
lose fight and decide either to throw their matches for
their teammates, or to not compete at all. I am strongly
against this. I feel that just because the team member
has been named does not mean that everyone else should
just pack up and walk away. I feel that everyone should
compete their hardest until the very end, whether you end
up 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or
last for that matter. The only thing that matters is that
people give it their all to the very end.
Yet, I saw people taking falls for
others, withdrawing from matches, and doing other kinds
of things like that. It made me feel as if these people
have no pride in what they do or who they are.
It was against this backdrop that Dedra,
even though her dream of becoming the Olympic team member
was unfulfilled, continued to fight on to the best of her
abilities, beating tough opponents to win the slot of the
alternate. And, while it turned out that she was never
activated for participation in the Games, no one can ever
take away the fact that she was the alternate for an
Olympic Team for the United States, and we at EBJI should
all be proud of her for that.
At this time, I would also like to
mention the role of our own Uncle Bob Fukuda in the
Olympics. Because of his nationally renowned skills in
Judo administration, organization, and officiating, UB
was asked by the coordinator of the Judo competition at
the Olympic Games to fill the all-important position of
Director of Information Systems for Judo in Atlanta. This
was, indeed, a big honor for both UB and EBJI, and were
proud to be represented in Atlanta by him. In fact, the
road to Atlanta started much earlier than summer of 1996
for UB as well, as he had to work several major
tournaments in that position prior to Atlanta, testing
systems and managing personnel. He worked the Olympic
trials in Colorado Springs. Speaking from personal
experience having taking many U.S. National Teams abroad
for international competition, it sure is a comfort to
see familiar faces in unfamiliar surrounds, and UB’s
presence was reassuring for both Dedra and myself. EBJI’s
presence at the Olympics were well felt!
Preparing for the Olympics
The road from January until 12 July
1996 was a rough one indeed. In February, the Olympic
team went on a three work competition and training tour
in Europe that included some of the toughest tournaments
in the world. As you can imagine, there is so much
tension and stress in this tour, and being that this was
the Olympic team, these are very highly competitive
people to begin with. Unfortunately, a rift emerged
between team members, and coaching staff had to work hard
to make sure that we could still function well. Although
Judo competition is individual, when we are traveling as
a team, the team’s dynamics are so important in helping,
or hindering, individual performances.
In April, the Olympic team converged in
San Jose at the 1996 Senior National Judo Championships.
Some team members competed, while others observed. Two
members went to Japan early to begin training there. This
was such a busy time for us at EBJI because we had to run
this tournament, along with five other dojos.
After the senior nationals, we had a
one week camp in San Jose and San Bruno for the Olympic
team. I remember going to practices here and there,
running around to make sure we were training well and
doing the right things.
After one week, we all met at the
airport in San Francisco to board a flight to Japan for
training there. We spent the first week at the
International Budo University in Katsuura, Japan. This is
a beautiful facility with hundreds of Judo players on the
mat for every practice. Being out in the countryside of
Chiba, there are no distractions, and we could focus
solely on our training. The team spent the mornings doing
supplemental training on their own – running and lifting
– and then every afternoon in the dojo. We were lucky
because teams from England and other countries were also
there at the same time, so we could work with them as
After one week there, we took a two day
break in Tokyo, after which the men stayed at the Kodokan
to participate in a national training camp with the
Japanese national team. Teams from many other countries
also participated here. The women, meanwhile, spent two
days training at Kokushikan University (courtesy of our
friend, Mr. Nakajima), and then went to Tsukuba
University to participate at a training camp for the
Japanese national women’s team.
I was with the entire team in Chiba,
and then went with the women during the second week.
Needless to say, the training was rough. We had our
players banged, scratched, bruised at every practice. Our
trainers were busy putting people back together well
enough so that they could go out there and bang heads
again. I remember joints coming out of place, old
injuries being reaggravated, and just a whole mess of
problems that are always inevitable during this type of
Yet, the team held tough, and we came
back in one piece (sort of). We returned to the states at
the beginning of May, only to go to Italy at the end of
May for a tournament. Our men competed at a tournament on
the island of Sardegna at the end of May, and were joined
by the women the first week of June near Rome.
After coming back from Rome, our team
had a couple of weeks of rest and regular workouts at
their home dojos before going to Montreal for a week to
train with the Canadian national team. This was also a
grueling camp, with tons of bodies all over the place to
Finally, at the end of June, our
international training schedule was complete, and we sent
everyone home to have a few weeks before the BIG SHOW.
All this time, I was just so busy,
trying to run the Junior Nationals while getting the
Olympic team prepared to go to Atlanta. Because of
everyone’s help, we were able to produce the most
successful junior nationals in the history of United
States Judo. You can’t imagine how busy I was. I woke
every morning to faxes and calls from around the U.S. for
both the tournament and about the Olympics. Needless to
say, I was happy that the tournament was over at the end
Finally, it was time to go to Atlanta.
I had to go in a day early, so I arrived there on 12 July.
It was simply amazing. As soon as we walked off the plane,
escorts from the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games
(ACOG) greeted us, as they did all people associated with
the Olympics, and they took us to a huge processing
center located a couple of miles from the airport. There,
we went through an extensive credentialing process, where
photos and handprints were taken of everyone. There, I
received my Olympic credentials, which had to be with me
during the entire time I was in Atlanta.
From there, I boarded a USOC van that
took me to a hotel in a suburb of Atlanta. The USOC
basically rented the entire hotel for US team processing.
Because the US has the largest team of any nation, and
all our sports entered Atlanta at different times, we
were all staggered as we processed through this hotel. On
the first day, I made all the arrangements for our entire
team’s arrival the next day.
The next day, members of our team began
showing up at the hotel. Once everyone was assembled, we
went through team processing, which took a few hours.
There, we got all of our Olympic apparel, which included
everything you can possibly imagine. There was so much
stuff that most of us shipped most of it home free of
charge via UPS (they were a USOC sponsor). We kept only
the essentials we would need in Atlanta. We also went
through the corporate sponsor rooms, where they provided
us with all kinds of neat things, like a beeper, glasses,
a cabbage patch doll, tours to amusement parks, etc. We
all took a team photo which went into an Olympic album
which I only recently received.
The final stop was a team briefing by
members of the USOC, telling us how we were now part of
the American Olympic team. Our team included about 700
athletes and 400 support staff. Judo consisted of 14
athletes and six staff members of the entire 1,100 US
team members! At the end of the briefing, we all rose as
they played the tape of the Star Spangled Banner and had
us visualize each of our athletes on the medal stand.
This was pretty moving.
Once team processing was over, we were
bused back to the Olympic Village inside Georgia Tech
University. We got into our rooms, which were actually
quite nice. There were four rooms and two bathrooms to
each suite, with a large living room area. The living
room had a television with a cable feed of all sporting
events, and all the Coke and PowerAde you could ever want
in your life. Most rooms were doubles, but I was
fortunate to have a single.
The next day, we started training. We
scheduled our practices in the morning, to match the 9:30
start time of competition. Before we went to practice, I
arranged with the venue managers to provide us with two
training areas (most countries only receive one), and
arranged for all young junior volunteers to get on the
mat and work with us. In actuality, I had coordinated
with ACOG who was invited to be a volunteer so that we
could have elite juniors with our team working out,
because we needed the bodies to take a lot of falls prior
to competition. This was just one example of the type of
advanced coordination we had to do!
Working out was difficult because we
had to battle press, well-wishers, and just about
everyone else that wanted to be part of the home team. It
was difficult at times to keep focused on the mat with
reporters and a large audience watching us work all the
time. However, our athletes knew why we were there, as
did our coaching staff. So, we finally managed to make it
Every afternoon athletes were free to
work out on their own, and most did things like run to
keep limber and cut weight. We kept this same schedule
from Monday through Thursday.
Wednesday prior to the Olympics was
special for us because I arranged for the team to go to
the actual venue in which we would be competing to have a
workout there. It was such a thrill to be on the mat in
the Georgia World Congress Center, using the whole space
and practicing with everyone. It was good that we did,
because everyone could now know exactly what the place
looked like, what the mat areas looked like, and most
importantly, what they felt like. The mats were all brand
new, and we had to get used to the footing. After the
workout, we were treated to an appearance by two former
Olympians, George Harris and Jim Bregman, who were both
part of the 1964 Olympic Judo Team. Bregman took a Bronze
medal in those games in Tokyo, and they both gave us
inspirational speeches at the end of our workout. I still
remember Harris saying that we were on our turf, and we
shouldn’t let anyone kick us around on our home ground.
Finally, Friday the 19th
rolled around, and it was a big day indeed with the
Opening Ceremonies. We had workout in the morning as
usual, but in the afternoon we all had to assemble at 5:00
p.m. or so to get bused over to the Olympic stadium. It
was HOT. Not only was it hot because of the Atlanta
summer heat, but because we all had to wear those coats
and ties that the USOC issued for our use only for the
ceremonies. But, no one really got caught up in how hot
it was because we were all so excited to be going to the
When we were bused over, the ceremonies
were already under way, and we could see the fireworks
going off in the Olympic stadium. However, we had to go
to the other stadium – Fulton County – to sit and wait.
We ate our little box lunches and basically watched the
ceremonies on the big screen in the stadium. All 10,000
of the athletes and coaches of the Olympics were sitting
in that stadium, and slowly, little by little, they stood,
walked out the stadium over to the next, and marched in.
Because we were the hosts, we were last.
I remember thinking many things at the
time. I remembered going to briefings by the USOC telling
us how we were going to line up as we marched in, and how
I thought there is no way anyone is going to be able to
keep all of us in such a formation. I remember sitting
and thinking about my entire career in Judo, and about
the previous six months of preparation, and how it came
down to that one single day when I was in the stadium
waiting to march in with everyone else.
Finally, after a few hours of watching
other teams go and the ceremonies on the big screen, it
was time for the United States to move. We started moving
up from our seats and into the aisleways over to the next
stadium. But we were so large that when the first of the
U.S. athletes walked in to the Olympic stadium, some
people were still walking out from their seats.
Consequently, people began to run down the ramp marching
into the Olympic stadium, caught in the excitement and
euphoria of the ceremonies. Then, everyone just had to
start running to catch up. I remember running outside of
Fulton County, up the ramp, and finally down the ramp
into the Olympic Stadium. I was about in the middle of
the U.S. delegation.
Still, all 85,000 people in the stadium
continued to cheer wildly as we all came in and walked
once on the track around the stadium. There were so many
flashbulbs and people waving and cheering. It is such a
rush to experience, and I am so fortunate to have had
We got into our places as the
ceremonies continued. The highlight, of course, was when
Mohammed Ali stood on the ramp with his torch, and we
were so lucky because we were standing right below the
ramp! So I watched as he lit the torch and the Games were
on. But, even as we walked out that evening, the crowd
was amazing. People would trade anything with us for a
piece of anything we had, and many people threw things
back and forth between each other as we walked out the
We boarded the buses back, glowing in
the once-in-a-lifetime experience of the Olympic Opening
Ceremonies, but considering what lay ahead. Judo
competition started the very next day.
And what an early start it was. Weigh-ins
were at 7:00 a.m., which meant that we had to be up at 6:00
p.m., boarding trolleys from our dorm rooms across campus
to weigh-ins to be on time. After weigh-in and breakfast,
we boarded buses to the venue.
One nice thing about being part of the
team was that everything was made to be convenient for us.
Transportation was so easy inside the village and out. To
go to the venue, for example, we simply boarded buses in
special loading areas that took us down closed roads
straight to the back of the venue. Regular people had to
go through a myriad of closed roads, newly formed one-way
streets, battle masses of cars and then lines of people
waiting to go through security checkpoints, and walk from
one end of the Congress Center to the next to get into
their General Admission seats. I would never have done
any of that to watch the Olympics (maybe).
Competition started on the 20th,
and to make a long story short, we were blasted the first
few days. Morale was low and somber, and even made worse
by Judo administrators badmouthing us in the press. That
really made me angry. Finally, we were happy when Jim
Pedro won his bronze medal in the 71 kg division. But,
all in all, we were disappointed with our results.
We took a lot of heat for our
performance. We were burned in the media, by
administrators, by Judo officials. The only people who
seemed to have any sense of loyalty to us – the U.S.
Olympic team – was the American public. They cheered
"U-S-A" when we walked onto the mat, and more
importantly, they cheered "U-S-A" when we
walked off the mat, win or lose. I only wished that we
could have that kind of support from the American Judo
To be sure, no one felt our losses more
sorely than our athletes and team members. I remember
watch one of our athletes get countered for ippon 15
seconds into her first match, and be eliminated from
competition. You cannot imagine what it feels like to
train all your life to have a dream to be in the Olympics,
to devote years to intense, full-time training, to go
through what we did in the first six months of 1996, only
to have it be blasted away from you in 15 seconds.
But, such is the life of competition,
and we moved on. I am happy to say that no matter what
happened on the mat – win or lose – the team stood by
each other, and I was proud of that.
The last day of competition for us was
on Friday, 26 July. I remember watching us finish our
last match, and for some time, I just sat in my chair
watching as the medals were given out and the crowd began
to leave. I was leaving with a friend to walk around the
Congress Center, because I had not even had the time to
visit the area because we were first to compete. Yet, I
couldn’t get myself to walk away from the venue, thinking
that the Olympic experience was over. The feelings that I
had were overwhelming and strange – relief, sadness,
emptiness, loneliness, exhaustion – as I watched the
venue, saw the last interviews being made, watching the
support crews complete the results tallies.
Immediately after the competition was
over, I walked over to the Centennial Park. There were
made attractions and booths. I spent time at so many
booths, but finally ended up at the AT & T Global
Village booth. There, I had something to drink, watched
television for a while, and finally left. To get out, I
had to go around the stage where a concert was in
preparation. I went with my friend to a place to eat
shortly thereafter. Little would I have known that a bomb
would go off right in the place I had been a few short
Actually, I was sitting in a restaurant
eating a very late dinner when Sayaka called me from
Hawaii. She asked whether I was OK or not, and of course
I had no idea what she was talking about (I usually don’t
anyway) when she told me that she heard on the news about
a bombing in Atlanta. Sure enough, there was a bomb, and
the USOC called us on our cellular phones asking us to
check on our team members. I called in, and fortunately
everyone was OK. But, when I tried to drive back into the
Village, I couldn’t get past enhanced security perimeters
established a mile away from the Village. So, I spent the
night off complex.
The next couple of days were spent in
awe and in a daze. Security was at its highest, and
everyone was tense because we realized just how
vulnerable we all were. We all basically hung around the
village and tried not to go too far off. In a few short
days, however, the spirit of the athletes and of the
competition seemed to win out, cautiously, and the Games
I left Atlanta early, wanting to come
home and get back to my life. The rest of the team stayed
in Atlanta until the end of the Games, after which they
visited the White House and an amusement park in Virginia
(all free, of course). I immediately went on a vacation –
the first time in a long time – and I remember watching
with considerable melancholy and nostalgia the Olympic
team at the White House from a hotel room somewhere.
So ended my role in the greatest
sporting event of my life, and one of the greatest
sporting events in the history of sporting events.
What’s it all About?
The Olympics were really special for me,
for several reasons. Of course, they were the personal
highlight in my career in Judo. Even though I had never
made it to the Olympics as a competitor, I was fortunate
to go to this Olympics as the Chairman of the Coaching
Staff and Team Leader for our team. This was quite a
But, I liked the fact that I was in the
Olympics less because it was a personal honor and more
because I represented our little dojo in El Cerrito, and
all of our members there. I remember sitting in my dorm
room at night looking out the window and thinking about
the kids and wondering how they were. I remembered what
we try to teach them at the dojo, and how I wish those
teachings, which are the true spirit of the Olympics,
could live in Atlanta, despite the crass commercialism
associated with everything that went on there. I remember
thinking of Robert, and Stephanie, and Tim, and everyone
else. I remember thinking about Sayaka who was in Hawaii
spending time with her grandmother, and how I wish I
could share this experience with her.
Over the six months prior to the
Olympics, I watched many of my teammates have big
celebrations at their dojos for their being part of the
Olympic team. In fact, I helped some of them have their
celebrations. I was happy for them. The funny thing about
it was that I never thought about how we should have one
for me, UB, or Dedra. In fact, someone mentioned it to me
after the Olympics were over, and I thought, oh yeah, huh.
But I was happy in the fact that I could continue in my
own life to work as hard as I could, and to try to model
what we all try to teach the kids at EBJI.
Now that the Olympics are 8 months
behind me, and we are back hard at work in the everyday
toiling at the dojo, sometimes I look back at what it was
like to have been a part of it all. I remember walking
into Olympic stadium during ceremonies. I remember the
low of the losses, and the high of Pedro’s medal. I
remember the bomb, and the nostalgia of leaving Atlanta.
I remember the training in Japan, the tournaments in
Europe, and everything and everyone in between.
But, I also see our kids, and I see how
they are growing so well, and learning so much. I see how
Stephanie has come so far, both mentally as well as
physically. I see the great growth in Lonnie, and in
Jennifer, and in Robert, and in Tim. I see Daniel St.
Angelo go from being a little wet noodle to a kid with
some "meat" on him. I see Ken working so hard
to bring Judo into the lives of his co-workers through
his new class.
I see the Olympics in each and every
one of our members. No, not necessarily the Olympic Games,
but the spirit of the Olympics – of courage, of
discipline, of camaraderie, of teamwork. I was proud to
be part of the 1996 United States Olympic Team. But, I am
even prouder to be part of the Olympic teams in all of
your hearts. It is a privilege and honor far beyond
anything I did in Atlanta, or will ever do for U.S. Judo.