LONGMONT -- Longmont native Angelina Fishback was paying close attention when American Kayla Harrison won Olympic gold in judo two weeks ago.
Far from the nation's most mainstream sport, no event is more appealing to Fishback. A 16-year-old judoka, or judo practitioner, Fishback is making a name for herself among the national youth ranks.
The final weekend of July, Fishback took second place in the female juvenile B (ages 15-16) 63-kilogram division at the 2012 Junior US Open Judo Championships. There, Fishback found her niche sport on center stage.
"It was really intense," said Fishback, who is about to begin her junior year at Niwot High School. "When I was in the finals they made a big deal about it with a live stream so people can watch it all over the country and the entire tournament is watching just your match."
Ranked No. 1 nationally in her division, Fishback felt she should have won gold. But she made the mistake of letting her opponent drag her and was thrown for ippon, or one full point, and lost to Tiffany Torres from Florida in the finals.
Fishback has been practicing Judo for seven years. Just a year or so ago, a loss like the one she suffered to Torres would have bothered her much more.
Having recently returned after taking a break from the sport, Fishback has been reinvigorated by switching to Boulder Judo Training Center, which is based out of the Mapleton YMCA in Boulder. There, she has been able to further her Judo skills by competing entirely against adult men.
"I've been doing it for a really long time and I wasn't improving," said Fishback, who jokes that she chose Judo because she was never good at mainstream sports like soccer or basketball. "I was stuck in a way and I was having trouble keeping up with my schoolwork."
It's good for Fishback that she's regained her passion for the sport. Next year, she'll have to compete in the senior division and that International Judo Federation junior division, which includes 15-20-year-olds, has longer matches and allows arm bars.
Arm bars are not allowed in Fishback's current division. She believes, however, that she'll adjust to the new wrinkle.
"It's gonna have to be hard because I'm gonna have to start fighting in a different style," Fishback said. "I feel like once I get it down, it's just another technique I can use."
Fishback also has qualified for the Pan American Junior Championships in Colombia. With many next steps in front of Fishback, her coach Sherrie Wilson believes she is committed and can go nowhere but up.
"When I tell her things, she can very quickly adjust in a match," said Wilson, a two-time national team member. "That's a hard quality to have. I've been coaching a long time and a lot of athletes never get that."
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