Valerie Gotay in newspapers

Some of you might find this interesting. Two San Diego area newspapers have articles on Valerie Gotay and her Judo comeback: San Diego Union Tribune and North County Times.


San Diego Union-Tribune
By Nicole Vargas
April 30, 2004

Following in the footsteps of her father and his father before him, Valerie (Lafon) Gotay was a judo natural.

Twelve junior national championships. Five senior national titles. Sixteen international medals, seven of them gold. Three-time Olympic Festival champion ... 1992 Olympian.

When Gotay decided to retire in 1992, it looked as if the Vista resident had done everything she had set out to do.

That is, until she learned San Diego would host the 2004 USA Judo Senior National Championships.

"If it weren't in San Diego, I probably would have never said I'd train (for the championships)," said Gotay, 30, a wife and mother of two who has spent nearly 12 years away from the mat.

"But you challenge yourself, and you figure you'll train a little and see what happens."

Gotay is one of almost 800 athletes at the championships, which begin tomorrow at USD's Jenny Craig Pavilion.

The event is the final qualifier for next month's Olympic Team Trials in San Jose, where the top five nationally ranked athletes in each weight class will battle for a chance at the Athens Games.

Athens, though, was never the goal of Gotay, who figured she would put her gear away for good after the nationals.

But a win at a tuneup tournament in Louisiana in the 57-kilogram (125.67-pound) weight class caught the eye of a sponsor willing to send her to the sport's British Open.

"I thought I had no business being there," said Gotay.

After resisting initially, Gotay eventually agreed that the tournament would prepare her for this weekend, at the very least.

But she got more than just experience. Gotay's silver medal moved her from a No. 9 national ranking to third, making her a virtual lock for an invitation to the trials.

"That changed everything," said Gotay, who acknowledges that she's still rusty. "That's why I'm so surprised I did so well. I'm still kind of in shock."

Gotay says her British Open success was "just one tournament. I have to let it go and focus on this tournament."

Gotay also is quick to point out her initial goal was, and still is, this event.

"After nationals, I'm going to have to decide if I go (to the trials)," she said.

Regardless of what she decides, Gotay says her comeback has meant the family judo tradition might live on in her 7-year-old daughter.

"She used to tell me, 'Not everyone has to do judo,' " Gotay said. "All of a sudden, it's inspired her."

2004 USA Judo Senior National Championships
Site: Jenny Craig Pavilion
When: Today and tomorrow.
Pool matches: 10 a.m.
Medal matches: 7 p.m.
Locals: Tara Bartholomew (70 kilograms); Valerie Gotay (57); Justin Flores (66); Jake Flores (81); Charles Graves (90); Josh Ramirez (60).

North County Times (San Diego & Riverside Counties)
Former Olympic judo performer returns to the sport on her terms
By: DAVID HAMMEL - Staff Writer
April 29, 2004

TEMECULA ---- Each morning after breakfast, Valerie Gotay and her two young daughters trek across their spacious backyard to the workout facility she and her husband constructed by coincidence last fall.

It has become a mother-and-daughters routine these last four months. Breanna, 7, and Isabella, 2, will play and offer encouragement as their mother ascends ropes to the ceiling and immerses herself in cardiovascular work. Along the way, Gotay's judo talents have re-emerged with such stunning swiftness that it now seems possible this 30-year-old stay-at-home-mom could become an Olympian for the second time.

And that's largely because of this home gym along with the old backyard barn that Valerie and Angel Gotay converted into a judo dojo on their two-acre Southwest Riverside County property last fall. Training partners come to Gotay's home for workouts three days each week, allowing her to perform her duties as a stay-at-home-mom while contemplating a last-minute, completely unplanned run at a spot on the U.S. team in Athens this summer.

"The key for me is to have a balance with my family," said Gotay, who became disillusioned with judo after her disaster at the 1992 Olympics and, aside from aborted comebacks in 1996 and '98, stayed away from the sport until she resumed full-time training on Jan. 1. "When it gets to the point where I'm spending too much time away from my husband and can't help with the kids, that's when it's not fun for me anymore."

What Gotay is attempting in judo is less a comeback than the resumption of a former life's ambition in the form of a brief hobby. The former Valerie Lafon only started training again because the senior national judo championships, which begin today, were to be held in her hometown, at the University of San Diego's Jenny Craig Pavilion.

The plan was simple: She would train for four months, compete in the national tournament, then she would retire again.

Until the first weekend in April, that was still the plan.

Then things started going insanely well.

For starters, the Gotays constructed the gym and dojo before Valerie knew the national tournament would be held in San Diego.

Her father and coach Gerald Lafon was initially skeptical of Gotay's plans. And at his urging, Gotay entered the Swamp Classic, a low-level tournament in Louisiana, the first weekend in April, "just to get a feel for it before nationals," she said.

Gotay won the tournament. A sponsor then convinced her to enter the British Open, one of judo's most prestigious tournaments, two weeks later. Lafon was against it. Even Gotay felt she'd be lucky to win one match.

She won the silver medal, assuring herself a spot in the U.S. Olympic Trials on June 5 in San Jose.

"It's been pretty darn remarkable," said Lafon, who operates Judo America in Mira Mesa, where his daughter trains three days each week. "It's unreasonable to believe you can go to Europe, which is a very big judo market and do what she did. Six years out of the loop, that's a long time."

In the two weeks since the British Open, Gotay's one-tournament return to judo ---- which wouldn't have happened had the nationals been in Indiana, she jokes ---- has evolved into a possible Olympic quest, one she hasn't decided if she'd like to undertake.

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(contd. from above)

At 30, Gotay is one of judo's older elite competitors. Almost none have children.

And she doesn't exactly have fond memories of her first Olympic experience.

Gotay was a star in judo as a teenager, joining the U.S. national team at age 14 and winning four national titles before age 18. She traveled to so many tournaments throughout her high school years that she had to withdraw from Mira Mesa High two years before graduating, finishing her diploma as a home-schooled student. She arrived in Barcelona, Spain as a favorite to win a medal in a sport in which the United States is traditionally an Olympic afterthought.

Gotay, then 18, had qualified for the Olympics in January in the 52-kilogram (approximately 106 pounds) weight class. But by late summer, she had grown two inches, and the corresponding weight game pushed her to 125 pounds at the start of the Games.

Her attempts to cut the weight caused serious dehydration. One night before she was to compete, she needed help just to walk. Doctors advised pumping her intravenously with 10 pounds of water. She agreed to five pounds. The next morning, three hours before the U.S. team was to leave for its weigh-in, she suffered a heat stroke in the Olympic Village.

She retired from judo shortly thereafter.

Today, Gotay is a healthy 120 pounds, competing at 57 kilograms (approximately 125 pounds). She claims to have put the 1992 Games behind her. Her family is what's most important to her now. She and Angel purchased their home in Temecula as a fixer-upper three years ago and have virtually rebuilt it since. Training partners bring their families to the house on Saturdays, and the morning and afternoon workouts are usually sandwiched around a barbecue.

The strict schedule and travel from her teenage judo experience will never become the norm again.

"If I decide to go for these Olympics it will be very short," Gotay said. "The Olympics are in August, trials are in June, and that's it."

Gotay won't make a decision about the Olympic Trials until after the nationals, having committed to consider just one tournament at a time. Upon prodding, though, she admits she probably will compete in San Jose. Still, when asked if she's attempting to gain a spot in the Olympics, Gotay responds with a seemingly honest, "I'm not sure."

"I think that things have happened so fast has really been to her benefit," Lafon said. "It hasn't been a drag on her. She doesn't have to spend protracted time away from the family.

"That's how this whole thing transpired. It was fast. We didn't jump the gun. We did just a few tournaments. And here we are."

Contact staff writer David Hammel at (760) 740-3552 or

That's cool!

Thanks for posting that!

Wow, Gerald must be proud of her!

Ben R.

"lol only in womans judo could this ever happen .......oh sorry also in curling . "

You know, Clown, you are correct, I am sad to say.

Ben R.

gotay bet burns with an amazing standing to seated wake-gatame for bronze. truly a sight to see