LONDON — Athletes in the sport of judo say the toughest part of a tournament can be the bronze-medal match.
After a grueling day of fighting, and losing in a semifinal, you must pick yourself up, brush off the disappointment and get ready to go again.
Marti Malloy faced that challenge at the 2012 London Olympics on Monday.
“You want to be mad and angry and upset,” Malloy said. “But my coach pulled me aside and said, ‘You came here to win.’”
The native of Oak Harbor, Wash., found a way to keep her emotions in check, then took her frustration out on Italy’s Giulia Quintavalle, scoring a decisive ippon — judo’s version of a knockout — to reach the podium in the 57-kilogram division at the ExCeL complex.
“When I ended up catching her with a full score at the end, the shock of it, it still gives me goose bumps,” Malloy said.
The 26-year-old receptionist at a doctor’s office in San Jose, Calif., joined a relatively short list of Americans who have medaled in judo, a club that includes Olympic team coach Jimmy Pedro.
As for Quintavalle, the defending gold medalist from the Beijing Olympics acknowledged feeling jitters: “I knew that it would be hard to repeat my performance of 2008, but I wanted to return with a medal. It is sad I could not accomplish that performance.”
Kaori Matsumoto of Japan won gold this time around, defeating Corina Caprioriu of Romania in the final. Judo’s complicated tournament draw includes two bronze matches — Automne Pavia of France won the other.
For Malloy, the whirlwind day began with some anxiety when the draw pitted her against second-seeded Telma Monteiro of Portugal in the first round.
A victory in extra time carried Malloy through the rest of the morning session. It wasn’t until the afternoon semifinal against Caprioriu that she made a crucial error.
Trying for an aggressive move, Malloy was thrown with only seconds remaining.
“The biggest challenge for Marti is to forget about everything,” Pedro said after the loss. “Emotionally, it’s a roller coaster.”
At least there wasn’t much chance to ruminate. Within 20 minutes, it was time to start warming up for Quintavalle. And that match did not last long.
They were in a corner of the mat, in that tense arm-to-arm judo embrace that can make it look as if they are suddenly going to start square dancing, when Malloy and her coach, who was standing all the way on the other side, spotted an opening.
“He and I both saw it at the same time,” Malloy said to reporters afterward.
Malloy’s coach yelled out the move, but by that time Malloy was already executing it, faking one way, pulling Quintavalle closer, using her foot to dislodge Quintavalle’s supporting leg, and thus solving the problem: Quintavalle was on her back and Malloy had won a bronze medal, only the second U.S. woman to ever win a medal in judo. Checkmate.
Just that quickly, Malloy dismissed any bad memories. Ranked 11th in the world coming into London, she finished ahead of expectations.
“I peaked for this tournament,” she said. “It’s my first Olympics, and I feel fantastic leaving with the bronze.”