Matt D’Aquino – His Olympic Story


Here at ESX we have an awesome personal story for you today written by Matt D’Aquino – Australian Olympic Judo Competitor…

My name is Matt D’Aquino and ever since I saw my coach fight in the Sydney 200 Olympics I wanted to represent my country at the Olympic Games. I was 12 years old at the time and I wanted nothing else more than to win a gold medal at the Olympics.

Olympic Judo 2008

I had started Judo 6 years earlier at a local club simply because it was a cheap and affordable sport. I was the youngest child of a low income single parent household. As soon as I started Judo I fell in love with the sport.

Unlike most martial arts, Judo contains no punches or kicks. Judo is very similar to Wrestling, where 2 fighters try to throw their opponent flat on their back. If your opponent lands anywhere but their back you may continue the fight on the ground with a submissions such as a strangle, choke or a pin for 24 seconds.

Although I was small for my age, I loved the challenge of trying to out maneuver, outsmart and throw my opponents into the mat. I loved the satisfaction of being able to beat fighters who were bigger than me simply through using correct technique opposed to muscle.

I soon moved on to a more competition orientated club at where I learnt a good training ethic and a competition base that is needed if you want to compete at a high level in sport. As soon as I made the decision to go to the Olympics I trained and sacrificed so much in order to give myself the best chance at qualifying for the Olympics in 2008. In my career I have done 14 trips to Japan, 3 to Korea, 9 to Europe as well as a multiple trips to North and South America training and competing with the best fighters in the world.

Throughout the few years leading up to the Beijing Olympics I was plagued with injuries and by the time I was 22 years old I had undergone 5 knee operations. Although this was a huge set back I never kept my eye off the goal of winning the Olympic Games and although I couldn’t train I would still watch Judo competitions online and I constantly thought about winning the Olympic Games.

Matt D'Aquino

After winning both the Oceania World Cup and Oceania Championships in 2008, I secured my place in the 2008 Beijing Olympic team. At the Olympics I had fantastic preparation (training in Japan and Europe) but unfortunately I lost in the first round to Lavrentis from Greece. He went on to lose to the current world champion, therefore I was eliminated from the competition.

Post Olympics I continued to train and compete in Judo, and entered some wrestling and Brazilian Jujistu tournaments placing 2nd in the national titles for Wrestling and winning the National title in Submission Grappling.

I continued to improve and In 2009 I had the biggest win of my career being the first Australian male in history to win the Judo Pac Rim Championships in Taipei, beating a highly ranked Japanese fighter in the final.

I was on a massive high when 6 months later the international Judo federation decided to ban all judo techniques that involved grabbing your opponent below the waist- this was to make it easier for people to identify the differences between wrestling and judo. The problem for me was that most of my favorite techniques were now banned and I had to totally re-invent my entire judo game- which is very hard to do considering the thousands and thousands of repetitions and years of practice I did to perfect my attacking techniques – it was like telling a boxer he can no longer throw a jab.

I spent hours and hours a week trying to refine and perfect techniques that I was not familiar with and I hated it. People who I could throw in under 1 minute could now last an entire fight against me. I had to really consider whether I wanted to say in the sport or try my hand at wrestling. I decided to stick with judo, but struggled trying to beat people with techniques that I didn’t have a firm understanding of. I knew the techniques and could implement them at club and state level and it was very hard to beat the fighters from overseas.

On top of this blow to my judo career, the international judo federation decided to change our Olympic selection policy which would make it harder to qualify for the London Games. With the old Olympic selection system you had to qualify through a region (like the world cup in soccer) and we had to qualify through the Oceania region. In the old system if you were the number 1 in Oceania in your weight division then you would qualify for Olympics. With the new selection there was a world ranking list, meaning that to qualify for the games you had to be the top 22 in the world- regardless of where you are ranked in Australia or Oceania. As Judo really is a world-wide sport this makes for some very very tough competition.

Put simply, the new system meant that you had to travel a lot more to compete which meant that it was going to cost a lot more money than the previous games.

Over the next two years I spent over 200 hours on a plane each year to compete in the USA, Japan, China, Venezuela, El Salvador, Tahiti, Samoa, Czech Republic, France and Germany. Due to the fact that I don’t get paid to train my wife had to work extra shifts while studying full time and I worked 7 days a week just to pay for all the trips and training I was doing to get to the London games.

After the two years of hard work, sacrifice and blood, sweat and tears I ended placing 7th at the US Open, 3rd at the Samoa World Cup and 7th at a few world cups in South America but in my very last Olympic selection tournament I needed to win in order to make the top 22 in the world quota but unfortunately I placed 2nd putting me out of the top 22 countries in the world.

I was (and still am) extremely disappointed that I didn’t achieve my goal. I worked so hard to get to the Olympics and I failed. When I lost in my last tournament I felt for both my wife and my family. When you train and travel so much it puts a huge strain on your relationship not just with you wife, but family, friends and even your employer. I have never been home for my wife’s birthday, I have missed countless birthdays and weddings due to being overseas and I have constantly stressed out my employers about who is going to cover my shifts when I am away. But everything is for a reason and although I didn’t make these Olympics I have learnt and grown so much from the experience.

I am so excited about my future that I cannot to wait to get started.