SDSU judo champ grapples with prolonged hiatus

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South Dakota State student Ahmed Abouelhassan won two medals at his first judo competition since a series of injuries forced him away from competition seven years ago.

The junior civil engineering major from Cairo, Egypt, won a gold and bronze medal in competition at the Midwest Collegiate Judo Championships which took place February 9 and 10 in Savoy, Illinois.

Abouelhassan, 25, took first place in the under 100-kilogram weight class and third in the heavyweight category at the regional competition. He was competing against athletes from six other universities, according to Midwest Collegiate tournament director Grace Talusan.

However, winning judo competitions is nothing new for Abouelhassan. He started competing at the age of seven and earned 27 medals in international competitions. After tearing the ACL and PCL in his left knee, and ligaments in both shoulders during training, Abouelhassan decided to stop competing.

The Midwest Collegiate Judo Championship was Abouelhassan’s first competition in almost seven years, so coming away with two medals for his efforts was gratifying.

“I was really, really happy with (the result),” said Abouelhassan. “It’s hard to be away for such a long time and make it back (to the same level of competition) again. It helped me regain confidence in my judo. I had coaches from other universities come up to me and compliment me on my judo and it made me feel very appreciated.”

A seven-year hiatus from the sport was not the only challenge Abouelhassan faced in preparing for the regional competition. He had difficulties in finding a partner with judo experience to practice against. Until a month before the competition, he worked out using only rubber resistance bands.

“Judo is all about practice,” Abouelhassan said. “So not having someone to practice against is very challenging.”

Faisal Almaqhawi, a junior construction management major and Abouelhassan’s friend, helped the champion train in the weeks leading up to the event, but did not realize the talent he was practicing against.

“I first started practicing with Ahmed about three weeks before his championship,” Almaqhawi said. “He mentioned he was a judo champion, but I thought I would do well against him since I have a background in wrestling. After our match I realized he was actually very good.”

Collegiate judo has seen a decline in popularity, but competitions like the Midwest Collegiate Judo Championships used to be training grounds for future Olympians, according to Talusan.

“Winning regional and national collegiate tournaments was a very big deal,” Talusan said. “Some tournament winners even went on to become Olympians. More recently collegiate clubs have been dwindling, but we are working on rebuilding collegiate judo.”

His recent success has Abouelhassan thinking about pursuing his dream of competing for the United States Judo Association, but he wants to see if he can continue his success at future tournaments before making any final decisions.

Abouelhassan earned a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering from Misr International University before moving to the United States and plans to graduate next spring with a degree in civil engineering. Should his plans to compete for the national judo team not work out, Abouelhassan hopes to use his two degrees to build a career related to judo.

“I’d like to keep competing until I’m 35 or so. I’d also like to open a judo center somewhere and teach judo in the future,” Abouelhassen said.

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1 Comment

  1. Yasser Abouelhassan on

    This man is my son. Of course I am happy for his championship but I am happier that he is a man with good morals.