Olympics: London 2012

Judoka Delpopolo faces biggest fight of his career

July 31st, 2012  |  Published in Audrey Snyder, Sights & Sounds

big picture judo

By Audrey Snyder

LONDON– Nick Delpopolo could have stormed off the mat and sat alone, replaying his shattered dreams of landing on the medal stand.

Delpopolo was one victory short of the semifinals in the men’s 73 kg judo competition after a scoreless bout that the judges awarded to South Korea’s Wang Ki-Chum. Delpopolo’s brow still sweaty and his judo-gi tightly fastened around his waist, he made his way through the mixed zone.

“I didn’t do enough offense,” he said of his seventh place finish and his loss to the No. 1 ranked fighter in the world. “I had favorable grips and I just didn’t use it enough. You wish you could get it back but it’s a good lesson learned.”

The 23-year-old from Westfield, N.J. has more important off-the-mat battles to fight than an Olympic bout. Fighting is Delpopolo’s pathway to reconnecting with his biological parents who placed him in an orphanage when he was a young boy. He tried meeting his father a couple of years ago. But he felt only hostility as Delpopolo and his American family drove around in a white van.

“I promised myself that after the games I’m going to send them a package with a DVD of my fights, some pictures, a note in Serbia-Croatian saying, ‘Hey, I’m your son. This is what I’ve done,’ ” he said. “ ‘Thank you for having the peace of mind to put me in an orphanage and give me some sort of opportunity to get out of there.’ ”

london 2012Delpopolo said he believes his mother lives in Serbia and once he connects with his father he plans to reach out to her, too. In between a trip to Montenegro and training for next year’s World Championships, the fighter wants to go back to school to learn how to speak his native language.
He spoke Montenegrin until he was five years old and left the country to come to America.

“I need to speak the language,” he said. “Then no one spoke it so what’s the point? This is stupid. Now I’m stupid and the joke is on me because it’s a beautiful thing to be bilingual.”

Delpopolo has no ill-will toward his heritage. He was speechless when he met his favorite sportsman, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, during the Opening Ceremony. The two posed for a picture and Delpopolo told the tennis star about his background and how he bought the Tennis Channel for the sole purpose of watching Djokovic’s matches.

Even if the bout left Delpopolo “crushed” and hungry for a return to the 2016 Olympic Games, he was quick to point out that the 2012 Games have surpassed his wildest dreams.

“If you’d give me a chance to replay my life, would I do this all over again?” he said. “Absolutely. It’s the best.”

Leave a Response