Judo-Fighting Hornet Wins National Championship

Dimitri Gamkrelidze ’20 gets ready for the match.  Photo Credit: Sandro Chaladze

Dimitri Gamkrelidze ’20 gets ready for the match. Photo Credit: Sandro Chaladze

By ARMIN PASUKANOVIC and ASHLEY ZHENG

I would be careful as a Midwood student who you mess with, because you may be sitting next to the United States’ number one 66kg Judo fighter, Dimitri Gamkrelidze.  

Gamkrelidze won the National Championship for Judo on March 9 at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

“The fight lasted four minutes,” Gamkrelidze said. “I was already exhausted from the last fight, so the plan was to fight out the entire match and win by points. Early in the match, I was elbowed in the eye and started leaking blood, so I threw him to the floor, which ended up giving me the win.”

Judo is a form of wrestling where you use grappling and leverage to unbalance the opponent. Points are awarded when the opponent is thrown onto their back. 

“My favorite move is the classic hip throw,” said Gamkrelidze. “What you do is grab under their arm, pull them by the sleeve, and flip them over your hip.”

Gamkrelidze competed in the biggest division, 66kg (145 lbs). There were 17 competitors in his weight division. 

The World Championship was in Colorado, at an elevation of 6,000 feet above sea level. This was a challenge for Gamkrelidze. 

“We instantly knew we had to do a ton of cardio,” he said. “Breathing in Colorado is much harder than it is in New York.”

“The morning before I weighed in, I coughed up a little blood,” Gamkrelidze said. “My teammates bled from their nose a little because our blood pressure went up. But besides that, we did a lot of cardio training.”

Gamkrelidze had to do more training than he normally would for a competition. Normally, he practices Judo for two hours every day and stays behind for weight training. But the elevation added an extra challenge.

“Somewhere along the semis, when the matches started to stretch out, I felt myself getting really tired really quick,” he said. “By the time of the finals, I was really exhausted. I fought a really long final, all the way to full time. Luckily I scored early on in the match, which gave me the win.”

Gamkrelidze came into this competition with a winning mentality.

“I lost in the final last year,” he said. “It was such a bad moment for me. I never wanted to relive that moment, so that’s what drove me to win this year.”

But there’s a lot more to Judo than competition, explained Gamkrelidze, who started the sport when he was six.

“My life pretty much revolves around Judo,” he said. “It’s brought me a lot of my friends and the respect that people have towards me and vice versa. So it really played a big role.”

Gamkrelidze has become such close friends with his teammates that he considers them brothers. 

“I built a bond with them that’s unbreakable,” he said, “but also with my opponents -- it’s all good sportsmanship. Before the match, we look like we want to kill each other, but afterward, it’s all good vibes.”

At times, Gamkrelidze has been able to transfer his Judo training into real life situations in unexpected ways. 

“I remember leaving without my keys one day, but I left the window open,” said Gamkrelidze. “To get back in, I jumped up to the ladder, did a pull up, and climbed the fire escape to the fourth floor to get into my apartment. It was a real movie moment. Everyone though I was crazy.”

Gamkrelidze has a diet to follow, and he has to be a certain weight for competitions. He has been following the same routine for more than half his life.

“I have to watch my diet, carbs, a lot of protein,” he said. “When a competition comes, I have to lose weight. I can lose two pounds in a hour.”

“When I need to cut weight, I can’t eat any type of chocolate or junk food for an entire month,” he added. “I wear a lot of layers of clothes and jog in them. After that, I sit in a heated car.”

There’s always the risk of injury. During the middle of a recent fight, his elbow “popped out,” he said.

However, this won’t stop Gamkrelidze from competing in future matches, and it looks like there’s more to come from this young sensation.

“Although winning nationals seems like a big accomplishment, it’s only just the beginning,” he said.

Rebecca Grigoryev and Elizabeth Vool contributed to this article.

SportsCasey Levinson