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Star-Bulletin Sports

Tuesday, June 13, 2000


By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Amy Tong, 22, will represent the United States in the 171-pound
judo weight class at the Summer Olympics in Sydney.

Amy Tong
wants to surprise
judo world

...and she won't let
wrist injury get in way

The native of Honolulu still
does her full workouts, because
'crunch time' is now

Editor's note: This is the first in a weekly series profiling Hawaii's Olympians competing in the 2000Games in Sydney.

By Pat Bigold


Amy Tong has wanted to be an Olympian since she was 10 years old.

The Honolulu native often overcame physical mismatches in her weight class to rise to the top of the American judo heap.

So it would take a lot more than the nagging wrist injury she's now enduring to sidetrack her from representing the U.S. this September in the 171-pound judo weight class.

Olympic Rings "I've had a bad wrist and I reinjured it in March during a practice," she said. "When I rotate it, I can hear it click. I just have to change a few things in my judo to compensate. My wrist is about 75 percent."

Tong said that in any other year, the logical solution would be to rest the wrist.

But this is not just any year.

"When you're an Olympian, it's hard," she said. "And right now it's crunch time."

Tong, 22, said she's been doing full practices despite the pain she feels.

"I just have to tape it up and then afterwards ice it,'' she said. "I just have to be very careful. It should be alright."


Amy Tong
Bullet Age: 22
Bullet Hometown: Honolulu
Bullet Sport: Judo (78 kg)
Bullet Olympics: First
Bullet Olympic dream quote: "I have an outside shot, but I want to surprise the world."

Next week, Tong will compete in the Benito Juarez International Tournament in Mexico City. After that it's pedal-to-the-medal preparation until her first scheduled match in Sydney on Sept. 21.

She'll be in Spain, Japan and then San Diego before flying Down Under.

"I have an outside shot, but I want to surprise the world," said Tong, who acknowledges that Japan, Cuba, France, Korea and Russia will be the top teams.

"There are 24 girls in my weight class and they're all tough. I would love to upset a lot of people," she said.

She'd be the first American woman to win a medal in judo if she battled through the field, and that's her drive right now.

"The U.S. doesn't have a large base of support for judo, and smaller nations have more players," said Tong.

The 5-foot-7 Tong, who is of Hawaiian, Chinese and Japanese descent, moved away from the state 14 years ago to Washington, D.C.

It was in 1988, shortly after she began judo classes as a youth, that she saw Hawaii's Kevin Asano become only the second American to medal in the sport at the Olympics in Seoul.

"I was in awe of Kevin Asano," she said. "Back then judo was mostly just fun to me. But when I started getting serious about it, I looked back on Kevin. I thought, oh, he's from Hawaii and he's a little guy."

But Tong has yet to meet or even speak on the phone to the man who inspired her. That's something she said she looks forward to doing before Sydney.

The fact that Tong rose to Olympic caliber with the U.S. program is a credit to her ability to deal with adversity.

In her weight class (officially 78 kilograms), Tong finds herself dwarfed by many opponents.

"When I fight Europeans, I fight six-footers," said Tong. "They're skinny but really strong. The Russians, the Germans, Dutch and French -- the typical European in my weight class is tall."

She said the Europeans are revolutionizing judo with a "scrappier" style. "They use more wrestling moves," she said. "The Japanese are not as strong but they use technique, finesse and quickness."

Tong, whose style incorporates both Japanese and European techniques, knows that her best years as a judoka could be ahead of her.

"A lot don't peak until their late 20s," she said, admitting that she's also looking toward a chance at the Olympics in Greece in 2004.

Tong said it's going to be prohibitively expensive for her family to see her compete in Sydney. Her mother is going, but only has accommodations for four or five days.

But her father, Samuel, a former University of Hawaii football player who now works for the U.S. Secret Service, might find himself protecting U.S. athletes at the Games.

Tong's siblings are also into combat on the mat. Her brother, Ammon, who recently graduated from Kaiser High, has twice placed in the state wrestling tournament. Her sister, Anna, a sophomore at Kaiser, placed third in the girls' state wrestling tournament and she won an Oahu Interscholastic Association judo title at 135 pounds.

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