My Olympic journey in judo first came to fruition when I qualified for the 1988 Games in Seoul, Korea. It’s hard to believe that in one way or another, the journey has continued for almost two decades. I have been involved in the past eight Olympics: the first four as a player (Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney); the next one (Athens) for my magazine, Real Judo; the next (Beijing) as a coach; and in the most recent three, including Rio, competitors have reached the Games from the training center in Glenville that my wife, Teri, and I started. I reached both the high and low of this Olympic journey at the 25th Olympiad in Barcelona, Spain. And it happened within a span of nine days. I’d had four narrow misses leading up to the Barcelona Games - losing in the bronze medal match at the 1987 world championships, losing in the second round of the 1988 Olympics and losing in the bronze medal match of the 1989 world championships. Then, I had to settle for ninth place at the 1991 world championships. I was considered one of the top players in the world during that time, but I couldn’t break through and reach the podium at the main events. In 1987, 1988 and 1989, I had lost to Bacir Varaev from Russia; even now, I joke that he has three of my medals. I had gone into those events with high confidence, fully expecting to win. Losing had taken a toll. Maybe I needed a new approach. I was all business my first Olympics, not really taking in all it had to offer. I changed that in Spain. Even though I trained extremely hard, I was determined to enjoy the Olympic ride, so to speak, and take it all in. There are so many things to enjoy inside and outside the Olympic village, and I tried to take advantage in hopes of lessening the pressure of the competition. I hung out on the beach boardwalk, which had a couple places to eat and a fantastic view. The ocean was very calming. Seeing it took me away from the fact that I was at a competition. I changed my mind-set. I wasn’t going to define my career by whether I medaled. I recall enjoying the entire process, including my competition days. As I moved through the rounds, I was quite calm. I didn’t put the pressure on myself that I had in the past. I was able to control those emotions and work my way through each match, doing what was needed to be successful. I ended up beating one of the favorites to win our division -Antonie Wurth of the Netherlands in the second round, even though he had defeated me earlier in the year in the Hungarian Open final. Next up, in the quarterfinals, was a familiar name. I was to face Charip Varaev, the brother of my biggest rival. The Russians replaced Bacir with Charip for the Barcelona Games, even though Bacir had medaled in four previous Olympics. Finally taking out a Varaev was satisfying, but even more important, it put me into the semifinals. I was one victory from finally achieving a medal. When I threw Lars Adolfsson, from Sweden, in the semifinal to secure a place in the final and assuring myself a spot on the podium, I walked around the mat with my hands raised high and let out a primal scream. That outburst was me thinking: “Finally!” As I came off the mat, I was greeted by one of the Olympic coaches and longtime friend Irwin Cohen. I then went right in the stands to Teri, my girlfriend at the time. We embraced and shared a congratulatory kiss that was replayed over and over on Japanese TV. The final was against Hidehiko Yoshida (Japan), who had plowed though the other side of the draw. I was very nervous, but it was a healthy nervous. My confidence was high. I started the match strong and took the early lead. I knew he would come back at me harder after he was penalized for passivity. I withstood his barrage of attacks, but not before getting scored on (a yuko, or partial score) to fall behind. I felt that he was starting to fade after he spent so much energy to take the lead. Like the previous three bouts, in which I also had trailed, I was sure I would come back. But just then, Yoshida maneuvered his way into a very good position. He knew I was in trouble and blasted in with his trademark uchimata (an inner-leg throw). It was over. At that moment, of course I was devastated. I was so close to winning a gold. Still, I knew the silver was an incredible achievement. The next nine days were heaven, but my dream quickly became a nightmare. I had headed back to Washington, D.C., for the Olympians luncheon at the White House and was staying at Teri’s parents’ house in Alexandria, Va., when I received word that my father, Bernie, who had remained in Spain, suffered a massive heart attack and died on his way to the closing ceremonies. He was just 49. Suddenly, my world was torn apart. I was very close to my father, and getting closer because of all of his involvement in my judo career. My dad was my travel agent, public relations man, press agent, financial advisor and videographer, among other things. In fact, one of his videos of Wurth was very valuable in creating a strategy to beat him. It took some time, but I put the pieces back together and regained the passion to make two more Olympic teams. And I went on to develop one of the top programs in the country, the Jason Morris Judo Center. Although the focus of the media was my success and the death of my father, my mother, Chris, was the early driving force in my career. She often gets overlooked, but I wouldn’t have accomplished anything without her getting me to practice and putting up with me for many years. My dad really came into the picture with my career later, when he realized judo was more than something I participated in. It was a livelihood. My passion for the Olympics is as strong as ever, and trying to get athletes to realize their own dreams is what drives me. There are so many phenomenal things about the Olympic Games but I must say, walking in during the opening ceremony tops them all. I was fortunate enough to walk in five of them. Not a lot moves me, but being part of those ceremonies is such an honor and privilege. Sometimes I catch myself thinking of how proud my dad was then, and how he would be now that this wonderful ride has lasted eight Olympiads. Jason Morris competed in four Olympics in judo, winning a silver medal in the 1992 Games. He and his wife, Teri, run the Jason Morris Judo Center in Glenville.
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Friday, 19 August 2016 10:02