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In judo, Jack Yonezuka earns Olympic experience his dad missed in 1980

Jack Yonezuka will be the first member of his family to compete at the Olympics, yet the third Yonezuka to be part of an Olympic team.

The 21-year-old from New Jersey was one of four athletes named to the U.S. judo roster for Paris on Tuesday.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do is be an Olympian and, hopefully, now medal,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s the road I chose. It’s all coming along. It’s happening.”

Yonezuka’s grandfather Yoshisada Yonezuka, a U.S. Judo Hall of Famer, was the Olympic team coach in 1988 and 1992.

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Jack’s father is Nick Yonezuka, who won the 1980 U.S. Olympic Judo Trials 78kg division at age 16.

Nick was one of about 460 athletes across all sports who made the 1980 U.S. Summer Olympic team, none of whom participated in the Moscow Games due to the U.S. boycott after the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan. More than 50 countries boycotted those Games.

Of those about 460 Olympic team members, around 250 never competed at another Games before or after 1980, according to Bill Mallon of the OlyMADMen. Nick is part of that group, too.

“At the end of the day, everything comes full circle,” he said. “Now I’m going to the Olympics with Jack. It’s great. Everything happens for a reason, and it is what it is. I’m just grateful to be able to go with him now as a coach.”

Nick is Head Sensei at Cranford Judo Karate Center in New Jersey, a club his dad started in 1962, a few years after coming to the U.S. from Japan.

In 1980, Nick got a wild card into the Olympic Trials, which he said took place after the boycott was announced.

“I was only 16, I really thought I was going to have more chances and make another (Olympic) team,” he said. “I was like, OK, it’s just the beginning. It’s not a big deal (to miss the 1980 Games). I’ll do it again.”

Nick was also part of a group of 1980 Olympic team members invited to the White House that year.

“They gave us some medals, gold medals, some clothing, like a cowboy theme,” he said. “We all met the president. We shook hands with the first lady and the president.”

It was tougher for Nick to miss the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He won the trials, but the team was chosen based on cumulative results over multiple competitions, and he was edged out for the spot.

“In ’84, when I really put my mind to training hard, that was the best shape I was in,” he said. “Because of what happened, it kind of broke my heart in a way where I wasn’t really the same after that.”

Though Yoshisada Yonezuka went to the next two Olympics in 1988 and 1992 as the U.S. coach, Nick did not join his dad in Seoul or Barcelona.

His first Olympic experience will be in Paris this summer, coaching Jack.

There’s a sign in front of the Cranford Judo Karate Center that tells onlookers that the club produced seven Olympians (including Nick).

Add another now that Jack is going to Paris, ranked 20th globally at 73kg and coming off world junior championships medals in 2022 (bronze) and 2023 (silver).

“He’s one of the youngest guys, and I don’t think there’s a lot of pressure on him,” Nick said. “He’s just going in there to hopefully upset some guys. You never know. He’s got nothing to lose and everything to gain, and he can beat anybody. He’s at that level where there’s nobody he can’t beat.”

The U.S. Olympic team also includes Maria Laborde, who is ranked 11th in the world at 48kg.

Laborde, 33, was a 2014 World bronze medalist for Cuba, stopped competing, moved to the U.S., became a citizen and returned to international competition in 2022 for the first time in more than seven years.

Angelica Delgado, ranked 21st at 52kg, is going to her third Olympics. The 33-year-old lost her first match in Rio in 2016 and was eliminated in the round of 16 in Tokyo in her second match.

Delgado is a first-generation American born in Miami to Cuban immigrants. Her father, Miguel, was a member of the Cuban national team. She began practicing judo at age 9 in the family backyard.

John Jayne, a 27-year-old who holds U.S., British and Bulgarian citizenship, is going to his first Olympics. He is ranked 34th at 90kg.

Jayne was born and raised in London, with an American father and Bulgarian mother, and wrestled for the University of Chicago.

Judo competition at the Paris Games runs from July 27 through Aug. 3.