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    Bad salsa dancer is World Champion

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    Andy Granda Campeón Mundial de judo

    The days are repeated every 24 hours, but none is the same as another. On Wednesday, October 12, 2022, far from his homeland, Andy Granda went out on the tatami with the same calm as always and with the certainty that he was in a position to make a "great role" (meaning achieve something very big, a performance of excellence, relevant, unprecedented).

    He didn't dream about it the night before because, according to what he says, he slept without worries and the only premonition he had was that he was in a position to be a world judo champion. He reviewed in his mind some previous fights and dedicated his last thought to Cuba, to his hometown, Jovellanos, in Matanzas, and to his family with an abundance of judokas.

    Not just because of what Andy now remembers. The magic of You Tube allowed me to realize that it was the day of this humble man who weighs about 115 kilograms and is almost two meters tall, a giant of respect and chivalry. It was his day and he took advantage of it.

    At the 2017 World Championships Open, in Morocco, Granda had planted his heart and just over a minute from the end of the match, he lost to the giant Frenchman Teddy Riner—nicknamed "Teddy Bear"—, the best judoka in the world, with three first Olympic places and 10 world championships to his credit, plus a long chain of 154 consecutive victories that spanned 10 years, before losing to the Japanese Kokoro Kageuraen, in the round of 16 of the Grand Slam in Paris, in 2020.

    "We only learns from defeats," he simply said when I asked him about the memorable fight a few days ago.

    In Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on the way to Olympus, he started with a difficult debut against the Hungarian Richard Sipocz, whom he beat by waza-ri in the golden rule; then waza-ri to the Austrian Daniel Allerstorfer in the first minute and ippon at 3:18. In the quarterfinals, he beat the Georgian Guram Tushishvili, second in the universal ranking and world champion in Baku 2018, by ippon in 20 seconds.

    The Dutch Roy Meyer stood strong and managed to get two shidos (reprimand) for passivity from the Cuban, who on the verge of hansoku-make (disqualification) redeemed himself and managed to get the extra and beat him by two waza-ri (waza-ari-awasete -ippon).

    That was how he came to the discussion for the gold medal against the Japanese Tatsuro Saito, son of the legend Hitoshi Saito, double Olympic champion in Los Angeles 1984 and in Seoul 1988.

    That memorable Wednesday, Granda went up to the tatami with the passion that dominates the chosen ones who practice the sport that Jigoro Cano invented: the subtle art of taking advantage of the opponent's strength to win.

    In front of him, with a torn and cold look, Saito Jr., a monolith weighing 160 kilograms, which translates into almost 355 pounds; In front of Saito, a Cuban peasant weighing just over 100 kilograms, also the son of a judoka father, although not of the Japanese lineage.

    "He is Japanese. I am Cuban, but the principles of judo are the same. So let's fight, "he commented at our meeting. Moreover, he remembered:

    «The coach and I draw up the strategy that we consider the most appropriate; not stand in front of the rival and everything worked out. He had already secured the runner-up in the world, but at that time, one does not settle. It was 6:24 minutes of constant struggle, because being the best in the world in any sport doesn't fall from heaven. And there, in Tashkent, I put my heart, with the help of my own.

    «I think my figure also helped me. Don't forget that a group of us have been preparing well, with a training base in France. In particular, I obtained fifth place in the Grand Slam in Tel Avid, Israel; bronze in Turkey and bronze in the Austrian Open, in addition to gold in the Pan American Championship and the Pan American Team runner-up. Here I arrived in excellent shape and things went well.

    «We both reached the golden rule with a shido. And I felt strong, with good air and I didn't give him a break. I think that if you analyzed the fight you will have noticed that Saito got a little tired. They admonished him two more times and with them the fight escaped him.

    —Did it turn out to be difficult to dominate such a corpulent, strong judoka with an excellent mastery of technique? You applied a Kumi kata (way of grabbing or controlling the opponent's Judogi) with great intelligence and strength.

    —That forced him to have to work to the maximum of his possibilities; I was at the top of mine. I knew what was at stake and in the final minutes, I increased the entries, on one side and on the other; as we Cubans say: I didn't let him breathe and that's where the result came out.

    —You are already a world champion, but the glory of Olympus is missing?

    —I think of the 2024 Paris Olympics. It will be stronger than the World Cup. I desire that medal, although in addition to the ones I faced in Tashkent, there will be the legend of Tedy Riner, in his own country. I will study the combats. We'll see what happens. I want to be an Olympic champion.

    And although judo is like a dance, a dangerous dance in which you have to give in to win, it is difficult to find a dancer like Andy Granda in this sport, terrible in all his outings, "especially if I have to dance salsa, go around and take care of my partner's arms, "he says.

    I, among the faithful devotees of judo, bow down to this bad dancer, who, in Tashkent, received the verdict, made the humble gesture of clenching his fist at chest level, without smiling and with a frugal hug to Tatsuro Saito, son of legend, without realizing, perhaps, that he had woven his own way.