By Mark Etheridge
National judo champion DJ le Grange is having a rip-roaring time of things on his trip to the United States and he’s already added three international medals to his collection.
Le Grange won gold in the -66kg division at this year’s national championships in Bloemfontein shortly after completing a two-year stint on the sidelines due to testing positive for the use of a diuretic.
Now he’s playing catch-up as he attempts to make up for lost time.
Since arriving in the US he’s fought in three quality events, winning a medal at all of them, including gold at the most recent, the Morris Cup.
Le Grange has opted to switch between the -66kg and -73kg weight divisions in order to make it as difficult as possible for himself as he looks to soak up all the fighting experience he can during his three-month tour.
‘We identified a few tournaments that I will be competing in on this tour. Some I will be doing at a higher weight category in the -73Kg division just to make it that much more challenging and to give me a chance to work on my physical strength by fighting against bigger and stronger opponents,’ he told Team SA from the US.
‘And then there will also be tournaments where I will be competing at my normal fighting weight of -66Kg. Those tournaments will be the ones that I will aim to win and do well by fighting under pressure and getting use to fighting players from other countries in my weight class.’
Le Grange, who trains at the TUK High Performance Centre in Pretoria and is featured in Team SA’s latest magazine issue (see above), first took part in the New York State Championships – at the higher of his two weight divisions.
‘I started well. In my first fight I beat the eventual winner of the -66kg division that day, who also decided to fight a weight up, by a clear ippon. In my second contest, which was also the semi-finals, I was up against a very strong player and it forced me to fight a very tactical fight, beating him in the end by decision.
‘In the finals I was up against a very strong Georgian who now lives in the USA. Georgia is very well known for their strong judo culture. In the end he was just too strong for me, beating me with a hold down and I had to settle for silver.’
His next tournament was in New Jersey, the Yonezuka Cup and once again he opted for the -73kg division. ‘I started off strongly by beating my first opponent convincingly by ippon and once again moved into the semi-final. In the semi-finals I faced one of the top -73kg fighters of the USA.’
So evenly were they matched that the fight went into the golden score phase, first judoka to score, wins!
‘My opponent launched a very good attack and managed to score against me to move on to the finals and he later also won the gold medal. I went down in the pool to face yet another east bloc player from Tajikistan, for the bronze medal
‘I also beat him convincingly scoring no less than three times against him with the final score resulting in an ippon and meaning I took the bronze medal.’
Le Grange’s last tournament was the Morris Cup in New York, and it was a tournament that the 25-year-old Pretoria fighter had targeted to win before heading west to the US.
‘I decided to compete in my usual fighting weight of -66kg. The competition was fierce and I was made to work in every single contest. I had to win four fights before reaching the finals where I faced a very strong and explosive Brazilian.
‘The contest was very fast-paced and tactical with both of us fighting fiercely for our grips in order to launch an attack. I scored early in the contest and this put a lot of pressure on him to come forward and try to get the score back. In the end I managed to throw him an ippon and win the gold medal.’
There was added bonus for Le Grange at the medal ceremony. ‘I was also awarded the trophy for the Most Outstanding Senior Judo Player of the tournament which was very special for me.’
His next stop will be Canada where he will spend time training at the national training centre and he’s also scheduled to take part in a tournament there.’
‘The experience so far has been great as I’m learning about so much more than just the fighting part of judo. I get to see how different clubs, using different strategies in their training and how it works for them. I’m also learning how to cope with the pressures of being on tour overseas for long periods of time and how to manage my performance on these tours.’