(Colorado Springs, Colo.) - When the USA Judo Senior Elite National Rosters were published this week, a collection of new faces ascended to the top rankings in eight weight divisions.
Below is a look at these new top-ranked athletes who will be players to watch on the road to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Ann Shiraishi (San Francisco, Calif. / East Bay Judo Institute), 48kg
After several years of sitting in the rankings behind friend and training partner Sayaka Matsumoto (El Cerrito, Calif. / NYAC / East Bay Judo Institute), Shiraishi advanced to the #1 ranking in the division after winning her first U.S. Open title in September.
Kayla Chappell (Moore, Okla. / USA Stars), 52kg
One of the youngest top-ranked players in the senior divisions, 16-year-old Chappell made a leap from #8 to #1 when she won gold at the U.S. Open. Chappell's gold medal win was the first in a major senior event for the teenager.
Hannah Martin (Glenville, N.Y. / NYAC / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center), 57kg
Twenty-year-old Martin not only won her first U.S. Open medal in September, but her gold medal combined with a bronze at the Rendez-Vous Canada last week moved Martin into the #1 ranking, passing reigning Pan American Champion Valerie Gotay (San Diego, Calif.) who has not fought since Beijing.
Nina Cutro-Kelly (San Antonio, Texas / Universal Judo), 78kg
In September, Cutro-Kelly won a silver medal at the Birmingham World Cup, becoming one of only two U.S. players to advance to an A-level final during the past five years. The win moved Cutro-Kelly ahead of 2008 Pan Am Team member Katie Mocco (Stillwater, Okla.)
Melinda Swanson (Honolulu, Hawaii / Hawaii Tenri), +78kg
Back-to-back medals at the U.S. Open and Rendez-Vous moved Swanson ahead of 2008 Pan Am Team member Heidi Moore (Englewood, Colo. / Denver Judo) in the heavyweight division. Swanson, who placed fifth at open weight at the 2008 Pan Ams, is the top-ranked player in that division as well.
Steve Perez (Miami, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami), 55kg
Just days after turning 15, Perez won a silver medal at the U.S. Open and is now the #1-ranked athlete in the non-Olympic 55kg division and a frontrunner for the 2009 Pan American Championship Team.
Landry Ambouroue (North Richland, Texas / Ruben Martin Judo Training Center), 90kg
In a close race between three athletes, Ambouroue emerged on top due, in large part, to his gold medal win at the 2007 Finnish Open. Sitting within striking distance of the #1 slot are Jacob Larsen (Santa Rosa, Calif. / Team FORCE / Boulder Judo Training Center) who placed second at the U.S. Open, and reigning National Champion Garry St. Leger (Brooklyn, N.Y. / NYAC / Legrosports Starrett).
Kyle Vashkulat (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center), Open
The reigning National Champion in the division, 18-year-old Vashkulat passed 2008 Pan Am medalist Daniel McCormick (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) in the Open weight division when he won a bronze medal at the U.S. Open. Vashkulat also is ranked third in the 100kg division.