Ferguson gets kicks, no medal
Sep. 15, 2004
Laurie Los
Staff Writer

Submitted photo

Rhadi Ferguson (right) didn't reach his goal of an Olympic judo medal after finishing 16th.

It crosses Rhadi Ferguson's mind on occasion. Usually after a long day training in the gym, away from his family. Or when his body feels like it can't take anymore. He asks himself if it's all worth it.

He wonders if representing his country on the biggest stage -- the Olympics -- is worth the pain and sacrifices.

Ferguson, a 1992 Richard Montgomery graduate, discovered it is worth it last month, competing for the U.S. Olympic Judo team.

"Your training, your surgeries, your dedication -- you felt like it was all worthwhile," said Ferguson, who competed in the Men's Half Heavyweight 100 kilograms (220 pounds). "The feeling of joy and pride being able to represent your country was amazing. The experience of the opening ceremonies was nothing like I've experienced before."

Ferguson entered his first Olympic competition expecting to reach the medal rounds but after exerting a significant amount of energy in his opening match against Yhya Hasaba (Syria), he struggled against Jang Sung-ho of South Korea and lost.

"It was a situation where I lost but I won because I gained the respect from the world of Judo," said Ferguson, 29. "It was a great experience. I was upset that I lost but I was still riding an emotional high. People were telling me what an awesome job I had done and the respect I earned definitely made it worth it."

Since Ferguson was defeated in the quarterfinals, he went to the consolation bracket. In his third match, Ferguson lost again, this time to Franck Martial Moussima of Cameroon. He finished the Olympic Games in 16th place.

"At the Olympics you have to fight every match like it's your last and you don't usually fight like that," said Ferguson. "When you're in a tournament, you keep something in the tank. I gave it what I had but all the gas in the tank was gone."

Ferguson left Athens clearly disappointed he had missed out on a chance to win a medal.

"Some people just go out to do their best," he said. "It was realistic for me to make a valiant effort to be a gold medalist. At the worst, I thought I'd leave with a bronze. I had an opportunity to win and I did the best I could do with it and I'll take it but I'm not satisfied with it."

With approval from his wife Traci, Ferguson has decided to spend the next four years of his life working toward another Olympic appearance in 2008 (Beijing).

"Being there let me know I have what it takes to be on the medal stand for 2008," said Ferguson, who graduated from Howard University in with a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1997 and is currently working towards a Ph.D. in education at Capella University in Minneapolis, Minn. "The athletes there have a toughness that is beyond measure. I saw that and I have that. I feel I have the qualities to end up as a medalist."

Ferguson's quest for the 2004 Olympics began four years ago.

He had attended the 2000 Games in Sydney but didn't get to compete since he was an alternate on the U.S. team.

Watching his teammates compete, Ferguson thought he also belonged inside the ring so he dedicated himself the next four years to securing a spot on the team.

He moved from Rockville to the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colo. He spent all day every day training and studying Judo. He also endured knee surgery in 2003.

Early on, it looks like the next four years will follow suit.

He's already made one sacrifice for the 2008 Olympics.

Ferguson had surgery Friday to fix a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. He had suffered the injury over a year ago but refused to let the pain force him to have surgery and hamper his Olympic training.

"I told my coaches about it after the Olympics were over and they said, 'We didn't know anything was wrong with your shoulder,'" said Ferguson. "I said, 'That's something you've got to keep to yourself when you're preparing for the Olympics.'"