For , what began as a childhood dream has become a reality. The Judo champion is headed to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London to compete and, hopefully, bring home the gold medal.
Delpopolo, who grew up in Westfield, took to the sport at the age of 5 when his father Dominic enrolled him at a center in Cranford.
The 23 year old, ranked number one in the U.S. and 16th in the world, secured his spot on the U.S. Olympic Judo team Saturday, May 12 after a dramatic fight to the finish against long-time rival Mike Eldred at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami.
After Delpopolo dropped the first bout in overtime, he was forced into a two out of three fight off. Tied in the last match, Delpopolo came from behind in the last minute and threw Eldred for ippon (a move in which the opponent is thrown onto his back resulting in an instant win) to make his first Olympic team.
"It didn't hit me right away," Delpopolo said. "I was in shock for about 24 hours and now I am just so happy that all the people that care about me and are on "Team Nick" were all there to be a part of it."
"It was a great four bouts and it was a shame someone had to lose, but I am very proud of the way Nick held it together to get the win," Delpopolo's coach Jason Morris, a four-time Olympian, stated. "Eldred is a quality player. Nick had to give it everything he had to get the victory."
Nick's proud mom Joyce, a history teacher at Cranford High School, said she doesn't think her feet have touched the ground following Saturday's Miami match-up.
"I just stood there thinking, 'is this really true?'" said Joyce, who shared that she immediately worked her way through the crowd to embrace her son. "We were just holding each other and sobbing. If someone saw us, they'd have thought Nick lost but it was just such a relief."
Nick, who has traveled all over the world to compete in order to qualify for the Olympic Games, was born in Montenegro, where he spent most of his first two years in a small orphanage. When he was 21 months old, he was adopted by the Delpopolos. Joyce said that she hopes, after the summer games, to return to her son's birthplace and then continue on to Sicily, where her husband's family originated.
Joyce also recalled how, at the age of 7, Nick was interviewed by ABC News reporters Bill Beutel and Lucy Yang around the time of the 1996 Summer Olympics. Nick was featured as child who dreamt of one day competing at the Olympic Games. Joyce said she has been trying to contact Yang for a follow-up story and to let her know her son's dream has come true.
Joyce also noted that the last Olympian from Westfield was 1992 bronze medalist Chris Campbell, a wrestler.
Nick explained that while a handful of Americans have medaled in the sport of Judo at the Olympics, none has ever taken home the gold.
"As a matter the fact, two coaches whom I have worked with extensively, Jason Morris (silver at the '92 Barcelona games) and Jimmy Pedro (bronze at the '96 Atlanta and '04 Athens games) are among the few," he said. "The wild part of this is no American, let alone North American, has ever won gold in the sport of Judo. I look to be the first."
Nick is among six Americans will who compete on the U.S. Judo team. He is the only one in his 73 kg weight class.
Of the whole experience, Nick said the part he is most looking forward to is the fight itself.
"It's the one and only tournament that I have not fought in and it only happens every four years and I may never get this chance again so I can't wait to get out there and fight," he said.
And how does one prepare for a once-in-lifetime bout?
"For the next 60 days I not only have to train harder but smarter and make sure I can peak at just the right time," the Olympic hopeful said. "I have lots of video review to do on all of my opponents because I could face a number of people so I have to do my homework. I will be competing on July 30th but the draw is random so I don't know who I will be facing."
If you would like to donate to Nick Delpopolo and become a part of his Olympic journey, please visit www.nickdelpopolo.com . Check back with Patch for additional information as Delpopolo's Olympic debut draws closer.