ATHENS, Greece -- American Jimmy Pedro's toughest test in the Olympic judo tournament could come as early as the round of 16.
Pedro, a 1996 bronze medalist and four-time Olympian, was placed
in the same quadrant of the bracket as world champion Lee Won-hee
of South Korea, setting the stage for a dramatic early matchup
between two of the top contenders for the 73-kilogram gold medal.
Lee's only loss since February of 2003 was to Pedro last
The judo draw, announced Thursday night, is determined in part
by each athlete's finish at the previous year's world championships
-- the top four finishers are separated in the Olympic bracket. But
since Pedro did not attend the 2003 world championships, he was
placed in the draw at random.
Not only does Pedro face the possibility of an early matchup
with Lee -- he also was one of just four competitors not to receive
a first-round bye. Pedro will meet Kazakhstan's Sagdat Sadykov in
the opening round, with the winner advancing to the round of 32.
The judo competition begins Saturday, when two of the sport's
legends compete. Japan's Ryoko Tani, the six-time defending world
champion at 48 kg, will try to become the first woman to win two
gold medals in judo. Tadahiro Nomura, also of Japan, will compete
in the men's 60 kg, trying to become judo's first three-time
Pedro competes Monday, completing a remarkable return to
competitive judo after coming out of retirement in 2003.
"I said Sydney would be my last, win or lose,'' Pedro said
Wednesday. "Without a doubt, Sydney was going to be my last.''
Instead, Pedro is back, hoping to improve on his fifth-place
finish in Sydney.
"You'd think being here four times, it gets old. It doesn't,''
Pedro said. "The time away from the sport, the time away from
competition, made me realize how much I truly enjoyed competing --
especially at the Olympic level.''
Pedro will lead a group of 12 American athletes competing in
judo this year.