Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
NJ Judo Fighter Crushed By Olympic Suspension
Monday, August 06, 2012
A 23-year-old judo fighter from New Jersey who was disqualified from the Olympics for pot use was distraught over his suspension, his mother told WNYC.
The mother of Nick Delpopolo, who grew up in Westfield, N.J., said her son called her crying on Sunday. He told officials he unintentionally ate something baked with marijuana before the Olympics.
“Whatever it is it was not an enhancement,” said his mother, Joyce Delpopolo, a history teacher, “so it would not have improved his performance.”
She said she expected her son would return to the Olympics in four years.
Delpopolo and her husband were visiting Sarajevo at the time trying to find out more about the biological parents of their adopted daughter, Helen, who also was a judo star.
Nick and his sister were adopted from the same orphanage in the former Yugoslavia. Nick came to New Jersey when he was 2-years old.
In a statement, Delpopolo apologized to the Olympic Committee, his teammates and fans and said he was embarrassed by his mistake. He was surprised by the test results.
“After making frantic phone calls to friends and family following the results, a family member confessed that the brownies she had baked (and that I had eaten a few weeks prior) contained marijuana. I had no idea that I had ingested marijuana until that moment," the statement read. The family member sent a "confession letter" to the Olympic Committee.
"Although my actions were not deliberate, I know that I let down the entire nation, and for that I am truly sorry," Delpopolo said.
He's the first Olympian out of more than 10,000 in the London Games to fail an in-competition doping test.
Delpopolo provided a urine sample on July 30, immediately following the men’s 73 kg judo, and tested positive for a banned substance, according to the International Olympic Committee. He placed No. 7 in the event but his standing will now be withdrawn.
One of his earliest instructors, Yoshida Yonezuka from Cranford, N.J., said he was stunned to hear the news.
“I'm shocked in a way, and that's why I say I hope this is some kind of mistake, I hope,” said Yonezuka, who said Delpopolo was a dedicated, accomplished student who never showed any signs of using drugs.
Delpopolo went to upstate New York when he was 12 to train with Olympic medalist Jason Morris then returned to New Jersey two years later and became a wrestling star at Bergen Catholic High School.
After an injury ended his wrestling career, Joyce Depopolo said her son started hanging out with the wrong crowd so he returned upstate and once again began vigorous training in judo.
The Amsterdam YMCA where Delpopolo was a member in Hagaman, N.Y., had posted a sign in his honor when he had made the Olympic team.
“If it’s true I’ll be disappointed not in him but in that he got kicked out because I know this was a lifelong dream of his,” said YMCA director Nancy Carr.
The USOC supported the disqualification and said it was committed to clean competition and stringent anti-doping penalties.
On Delpopolo’s Facebook page, fans expressed a mix of empathy and disgust.
“Blew it all over some brownies,” one commenter wrote.