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Judoka Reser Aims High at First Olympics

He is a four-time U.S. national champion and won the Pan American Games title last year in Rio de Janeiro. But Ryan Reser of the U.S. judo team has never been to the Olympics. This year, that will change, when Reser competes in the men's 73-kilogram category in Beijing. AS VOA's David Byrd reports, for Reser nothing less than Olympic gold will be satisfying.

Ryan Reser first got involved in judo at age five. His parents were looking for a sport to keep the rambunctious child and his siblings busy and out of trouble. By age seven, Reser was competing in national events. While he also played soccer and wrestled, by the time he finished high school, Ryan was focused only on judo with one goal in mind - winning the Olympics.

That dream came closer to reality this year. At the U.S. Olympic trials in Las Vegas, Nevada in June, Reser lost the first of three matches to countryman Chuck Jefferson. But he came back to beat Jefferson in the next two matches to win the berth to Beijing.

Reser and Jefferson had been battling for the top spot for years. Reser had also been the top alternate to four-time Olympian and former world champion Jimmy Pedro in 2000 and 2004. Pedro retired after winning his second Olympic bronze medal in Athens. Ryan Reser says he learned much from watching Pedro, but now he is out to earn his own reputation.

"It does not bother me because Jimmy is obviously a very good judo player, one of the best that we have had," he said. "So it is actually an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as Jimmy, but you know, you obviously want to live your own legacy. You want to - I want to be Ryan Reser instead of the next Jimmy Pedro. I mean it is an honor but I want to make my own stand."

In judo, the goal is to score an ippon, similar to a pin in wrestling or a knockout in boxing. There are several techniques, including hip throws, arm locks, strangle holds and other moves that players use to score an ippon.

At the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Reser scored an ippon with a throw of Leandro Guilhero of Brazil. The partisan Brazilian crowd disagreed with the ruling, and Reser said fans were throwing things and cursing him as he left the venue. But the American says that kind of passion is part of judo. However, unlike other countries, American judo players are not professionals. Reser has a job and is also going to school part time. He says it is tough, but worth it to make the Olympics.

"For the Europeans, the Japanese or the Asian countries, it is a job for them. That's their job. Unfortunately for us, we are not that recognizable yet in the United States, which we are working on," he said. "You know we put our time in working, we put our time in going to school, and then we do as much as we can. And we do get a lot of support from USA Judo and also from our families and other avenues like that."

To realize his dream of making the Olympics, Ryan Reser moved to Colorado Springs 10 years ago to train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Ryan and his older brother Reno, a decorated judoka in his own right, share a house there and Ryan was often his brother's sparring partner. Judo requires a disciplined training regimen, which Ryan says includes strength and endurance training and judo practice. That training is in addition to work, school and caring for two dogs, a boxer and a bulldog mix.

"I get up about 5:30 or 5:45 and get everything ready for the day. I go to do a workout for about an 1.5 or two hours. Do cardio, weights and then I go to work until about 3:00 or 3:30-ish and then go straight to practice from there. And then home to take care of the dogs take care of the family stuff again and get ready to start early the next day."

But Ryan Reser's life is not all judo. He told VOA Sports the wilderness of Colorado's Rocky Mountains offers him somewhere to relax and get away from the intense preparation for the Olympics.

"I mean relaxing isn't really relaxing; it's hiking, a lot of mountain biking, taking the dogs out. But just anything to get away from judo, which is such a demanding sport both physically and mentally, so just anything to where I can just head out to the country," added Reser. "And check out the sights and just breathe in the mountain air."

Ryan Reser says his goals are simple - not only to make the Olympic team, but also to make the podium, preferably the gold medal platform. He told VOA that his favorite phrase is "being an Olympian is not every four years, it is every day." Reser has made that his credo and he hopes that his everyday commitment to judo will lead to a gold in Beijing.