*Note: This article ran as the main bar article in the June 17, 2012 Sunday edition of Daily Local News.
Posted: June 16, 2012; Published in Daily Local News
Although many Americans may live in a jingoistic world where the universe revolves around the United States and its culture, the most highly participated sport on the globe is not actually football, also known as soccer in the States, but judo. Judo, which translates in Japanese to ‘gentle way,’ is accurately described as the second most popular combative sport in the Olympics ahead of freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, boxing, and fencing, trailing only Taekwondo.
Growing up in the 1990s, Coatesville native Nick Kossor, 26, idolized Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and of course Michaelangelo. An aspiring artist, you presume? Incorrect. Although named after four brilliant Italian Renaissance artists, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were an inspiring group of crime-fighting turtles from the sewers of New York.
At the age of five, a young Nick turned to his parents, Steve and Kathie, and said, “I want to be like them.” And from that moment, Nick’s Judo career had begun.
Kossor’s elementary training began in Thorndale at the Brandywine Judo School, which he said is no longer in existence. Soon after, Kossor moved on to Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell Judo Sambo Academy set on the city line in Huntingdon Valley. During these years, Nick attended his freshman and sophomore years at Bishop Shanahan High School.
“I really enjoyed my time at Shanahan,” he said. “The entire staff was supportive both academically and athletically.”
With the bulk of his free time set towards judo, Nick had little opportunity to participate in many scholastic sports.
“I did a little recreational rugby, and a few baseball practices at the school in an attempt to squeeze that into my schedule,” he said.
Baseball was always his second favorite sport, which he had played since t-ball.
“In the end, I just didn’t have enough time to fit (baseball) in with my schedule because by the time I reached Shanahan I was already traveling nationally and internationally regularly for judo.”
At 16, Kossor was recruited by judo instructor Jason Morris to his training facility in Glenville, N.Y.
“I was honored at the time because I was so young and (Morris) was an Olympic medalist,” Kossor said. Morris took home the silver in the Half Middleweight division in the 1992 Barcelona games.
“At that time, I moved to Glenville and attended Burnt Hills to finish out high school,” Kossor said.
Currently, Nick is pursuing an Associate’s Degree in Science at Schenectady County Community College with plans to eventually obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Medicine and work in sports therapy. Because as he puts it, “You can’t play sports at the professional level for your whole life.”
Right now, Kossor earns money from his sponsor, the New York Athletic Club. But he lives quite modestly compared to the professional judoka in European and Asian countries.
“In France and Japan, judokas make millions from sponsors such as Adidas and are even given cars, Kossor said. “My sponsors mainly pay for my training and trips.”
Although the participation is much greater in other parts of the world, Kossor and his American counterparts fare well in international tournaments as well as domestic competitions.
“We hold our own, especially from the limited participation here (in America),” Kossor said.
He has been top-ranked in his weight class – 60 kg or 132 pounds — and has aspirations to regain that lofty perch. “I hope to get back there pretty soon,” he said.
This seems very attainable for someone who has won more than 30 matches in under 10 seconds. A typical match lasts five minutes and can have three minutes of overtime added if necessary. He is currently third in the country and 54th in the world. As Nick puts it, his highest ranking in the world was ‘somewhere in the low 40s, but not sure exactly.’”
But his number one national ranking was no fluke, as he has proved by capturing three national titles. He won his first in 2004 on the U20 circuit, but his next two victories in 2008 and 2010 were true senior titles.
“The 2008 win was a trip,” Kossor said. “Completely surreal.”
The real icing on the cake came when he defeated 2004 Athens Olympian Taraje Williams-Murray for the crown.
With a national title in April, Nick looked to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. After holding the domestic number one ranking for about a month, Nick fell short, losing in the finals for Olympic qualification to Taraje Williams-Murray in June. Of course, he was named first alternate but his services were not called upon.
Fast forward to the 2009 national tournament and Nick once again finds himself in the finals. Kossor fell to Aaron Kunihiro after being hit with controversial stalling penalties.
“I’ve talked to those referees since then and they both agreed that the calls were pretty bad,” Kossor said. “I don’t dwell on losses because you have to have a short term memory in the sports world.”
In 2010, he reclaimed his title as number one in the country and held it for over a year, but his favorite highlight from that year came at a different competition. At the New York Open Judo Tournament, Kossor took home the gold as well as the highly coveted Most Outstanding Athlete award.
The following year, he had success at the Paris Grand Slam, formerly known as the French Open, which is a judo tournament second only to the Olympics and on par with other world competitions.
“I was on fire that day,” he said. “First, I beat Cuba, then Ukraine, and moved on to the reigning number one in the world, Rishod Sobirov of Uzbekistan.”
Sobirov had claimed the Bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as well as a World Championship Gold in Tokyo just a year before. During the match, Kossor injured the rotator cuff in his right shoulder and was unable to finish the match. Sobirov went on to claim the gold at the tournament and with it the world championship title.
Since his injury in February, he has been rehabbing and says he’s 100 percent recovered and fully competitive. However, due to his injury, he did miss qualification for this year’s Olympics in London.
“Missing this year’s team is depressing, but the sadness was short-lived,” he said. “I’ve already set my sights on 2016 and other goals. Not to mention that not making the team this year does not negate the body of work and accomplishments I received in the past. Chasing the dream is what really can be fulfilling, not necessarily always achieving it.”
Kossor remains a positive person through all of his failure and success.
“Ultimately I’m massively optimistic about the future; I’ve got the best coach in the country, Jason Morris, and train with the best judoka in the country.”
He believes all five American judokas have a great chance to medal at this summer’s Games.
“The U.S. Judo squad has never had an Olympic gold medalist, and if it doesn’t happen this year for the men’s or women’s, I intend on winning it,” Kossor said.