Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2003

World judo champ Pedro visits local dojo

by Paolo Pacoli, Times Staff Writer

Jimmy Pedro has seen his fair share of the world competing in, and usually winning, judo competitions around the globe. Back home, many recognize him as the greatest judo competitor in United States history, although chances are the average sports fan has never heard of him. But in the world of judo, Pedro is what Michael Jordan was to basketball, what Barry Bonds is to baseball.

Pedro, 33, takes it all in stride. He still realizes the importance of going back to how it all started for him, which he did Saturday with students at the Goltz Judo Club in Claremont during a special clinic."When I was a kid, that's how I got good," Pedro said. "I had people to teach me. A lot of the techniques I learned got me to where I am today."

His track record speaks for itself. Pedro was crowned the World Judo Champion in 1999 in Birmingham, England. He owns one of the eight Olympic medals captured by the United States in judo, the bronze medal he won at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta. He has won more than 400 medals in tournaments around the world.

The Lawrence, Mass., resident was in Los Angeles to conduct a camp when he was invited to the Goltz Judo Club by AnnMaria Rousey, a former world champion and friend of club founder and head sensei Gary Goltz. Goltz said Pedro definitely ranks among the top five of all the judo stars who have stepped into his club.

Pedro's visit created such a buzz that rather than offering the clinic to just his own students, Goltz opened the clinic up to the judo community. More then half the clinic attendees were people from other judo clubs, and the entire group of attendees consisted of students of all ages and levels, from white belts to sixth-degree black belts. "They were extremely excited," Goltz said. "He's a real motivating guy. He touched people at every level."

Pedro has more in common with Jordan than the accolades and the dominance of their respective sports. Just as Jordan did twice during his career, Pedro is in the midst of a comeback after a two-year break. He initially called it quits after the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, where he was disappointed with his fifth-place finish.

It did not take long for the emptiness to settle in."I missed the sport," Pedro said. "I wanted to see if I could give it just one more go." Pedro said one of the main reasons for his return is the quest for the one achievement that has eluded him: Olympic gold.

Training for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, has already begun, with Pedro taking the mat for about nine hours a day to practice. No American has ever captured the Olympic gold medal in judo and it would be only fitting for the most successful judo competitor this country has seen to be the first to do so.

"I feel I'm still young enough and still healthy enough to do it," Pedro said. "It would be the No. 1 feat [of my career]. The Olympics are the pinnacle of sports, and it would be a tremendous achievement." But the two-year layoff did not leave Pedro unaffected. He maintains that he is still trying to gain ground, and that he does not feel as sharp or as smooth in his movements as he did prior to the retirement.

Pedro said his family - his wife, Marie, and three children: daughter Casey and sons Ricky and A.J. - has supported him throughout the comeback, although he said his children are a little too young to understand why their father cannot spend all his time with them.

The family will not have to wait too long for Pedro to give his full attention to them. The 2004 Olympics will be Pedro's last hurrah, regardless of the outcome, and he assures them that this is not a Jordan-esque promise. Of course, that is what he said after the first retirement."That's the end, no matter what," Pedro said. "I'll be a dinosaur by then."

He has already given much thought to his post-retirement plans, which might include a return to, where he was the company's Olympic sponsorship manager. Pedro said he also hopes to open up his own dojo in the Boston area, which would be beneficial to 7-year-old Casey, who has taken up judo on a recreational level and already holds the rank of yellow belt.

Another option Pedro is considering is to get involved in the leadership of judo in the United States, where he might inject some life into the status of this martial art and sport which has become stagnant. If anyone can bring the judo back to prestige in America, perhaps it can be the biggest star this country has seen in judo to date!

Nathan Goltz, Jimmy Pedro, and Sensei Gary Goltz

Update - August 16, 2004

Jimmy Pedro today won a bronze medal in Greece becoming the first American to place twice in the Olympics. He defeated France's Daniel Fernandes by ippon at the Ano Liossia Olympic Hall. Asked if he'll still be wearing his laurel wreath upon his arrival back to the United States Jimmy said, “Darn straight. When I get off the plane in Boston, I’ll still be wearing this laurel wreath!”