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Amy Tong: One Tough Olympic Wahine

Olympic judo player Amy Tong is one tough woman. Maybe it comes from her dad, a Secret Service agent and former University of Hawaii football player. Or maybe it comes from her siblings--her brothers are active in judo, football, and wrestling in their home state of Hawaii. Even little sister Anna wrestles on her high school team and won the state judo championships.

"You just have to train hard. And even on the days when you're not motivated, you have to do it." But it could also be the daily 2 1/2 hour workouts, or the rigorous weight training regimen. More likely, though, it's a formidable fighting spirit that has brought this young black belt from Honolulu to a spot on the U.S. Olympic judo team.

Amy started in judo at age 10. "My brothers were in the beginner's class, and so Dad thought it would be a good idea for his daughters to take judo too," says Tong. "But there weren't a lot of girls in judo at that age. I was always bigger, so I practiced with guys all the time," she recalls. Tong still uses this training method today. I watched her rotate through several members of the SJSU men's judo team in randori (free sparring), holding her own against several of the best in collegiate judo.

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Amy (blue gi) and other members of the women's team take on the guys in randori (free sparring).

Amy will face the best women in the world at the Sydney Olympics. "The women who did the best at the '99 Worlds (World Judo Championships) are the ones to watch," remarks Tong. "Japan took first, China took second. The Cuban and French girls look good this year. The Europeans are often dominant."

Tong is no slouch on the international competition scene either. To make the Olympic team, Tong needed to win a medal at the Pan American games. Athletes qualify for the Olympic team in two ways--either by placing in the top eight at the World Championships, or by satisfying the quota system set by the Pan American Judo Union. The quota system requires an athlete to place high at major competitions, including the Senior National Championships, Collegiate National Championships, and the Pan American games. Tong had won gold at the Senior Nationals and the Collegiate Nationals, but still needed to place in the medal round at the Pan Am games.

*wahine = girl, woman in Hawaiian pidgin

Next: Amy Tong, page 2: Fighting to Get on the Team


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