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FW native working toward Olympic dream
By COLE COSGROVE
If the proverbial road to the Olympics is a freeway, Mike Barnes has his foot on the accelerator, his turn signal is on and hes merging into the far left lane.
With the U.S. Olympic Trials about a year away, the 1992 Decatur High School graduate is the favorite to represent the United States Judo Team in Athens in 2004.
Barnes, 29, is the 2002 U.S. National Champion and the U.S. Open champion in the 100 kilogram division.
In November Barnes took the bronze medal at the Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic, his only two losses coming to ex-Olympic medalists.
This weekend hes competing in the prestigious Kano Cup in Tokyo, Japan.
Ive always wanted to go the Olympics, so its really starting to pay off, Barnes said. I dont really think I ever thought it was possible. It was like a fantasy, like a dream. I always thought going to the Olympics would be the coolest thing in the world, but I was never even ranked No. 1 as a junior. I tried hard and put in a lot of effort, but it didnt seem to pay of until I was in my mid-20s. Some of it was just the dedication and my learning curve. I just started to realize my potential.
Judo is an Japanese form of wrestling that has been an Olympic event since 1964. Instead of wearing tight-fitting singlets like wrestlers, judo players wear heavy uniforms that allow firm holds on hundreds of points of contact. As wrestling has five or six points of contact for takedowns using the arms, legs or head, Judo features thousands of throws. On the ground, judo involves control holds, arm locks and choking techniques.
Theres enough similarities that we can take high school wrestlers and turn them into pretty good judo players in six months, said Dick Barnes, who coached Mike when he started his judo career at the club when he was 5.
I fell in love with judo and wrestling, Mike Barnes said.
When Barnes was 14 he won the judo junior nationals.
In wrestling, he went to the high school state tournament twice and placed sixth his senior year.
At 18, Barnes hurt his back and didnt compete for a couple of years until he went to Highline Community College and joined a judo club. He took third at senior nationals in 1995 then moved to San Jose State University Ñ a team that has won 36 National Championships in 39 attempts.
Barnes won collegiate nationals three years in a row, but blew out his knee his senior year. He had the knee reconstructed in 1998, but as soon as he came back he injured his neck in 1999 and was out another six to eight months with a herniated disk.
It took Barnes six months before he could even do a push up.
I was actually told by one doctor that if I got hit on the head again I would be paralyzed, Barnes said. But it was not a concern.
Since that injury, Barnes has grown stronger and started to develop with international experience.
Were very proud of him, Dick Barnes said. Hes put in a lot of time and effort. He wasnt a natural athlete. He spent many, many hours doing exercises and workouts. He spent years fighting blindfolded to learn balance. He really had to develop himself, he wasnt one of those naturals.
In the next few months Barnes will be expanding his experience with tournaments in Japan, Korea, Canada and Europe.
Mike still has more than a year to gain the international fighting experience that he needs, Dick Barnes said. He says hes learned more in the last few months than in the last four or five years. The time he spends at these big tournaments, against the best in the world, prepares him to beat those players when they meet for the Olympic showdown in Athens.
In a sport that is physically demanding, Barnes has had the mental strength to overcome injuries and succeed at the highest level.
Just fighting in general is mental, Mike Barnes said. If you know youre the best, youll be the best. That cant be taught, you just have to get it. You train harder, you get stronger and you get that much better. You know you deserve it.
Ill definitely retire after 2004, but until then Ill give it everything I can.