Judo has given Nick Delpopolo everything in his life.
Now, it has given him a chance to chase his Olympic dream. It's a chance he will try to take full advantage of Monday when he competes in the 73-kilogram tournament at the ExCel North 2 arena in London, where he will find out where he stacks up against the world's best.
Currently, he is the top-ranked judoka in the U.S., and ranked No. 12 worldwide.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Olympian Nick Delpopolo, left, teaches Christopher Biasi of Amsterdam a judo technique while visiting the Amsterdam YMCA in Hagaman on July 19.
It's all relative," Delpopolo said. "No matter what you accomplish, you have to keep pushing yourself or else you can't excel."
Delpopolo, who works out at the Jason Morris Judo Center in Glenville, departed for London from Albany International Airport on Tuesday with Kyle Vashkulat, who will compete in the 100-kilogram weight class in London.
Even as the Olympics approached, Delpopolo said he wasn't nervous.
DOB: Feb. 8, 1989
Birthplace: Niksic, Montenegro
Hometown: Westfield, N.J.
Current Residence: Amsterdam
Hobbies: Teaching judo, downloading music, watching judo videos, eating, watching Monday Night Raw
Favorite Judoka: Yone Yonezuka, Mike Swain, Jason Morris
Notes: Plays judo lefty but does everything else right handed ... keeps win-loss records and stat books against opponents ... been teaching judo to kids and adults since he was 12 years old ... won the most world tour medals of any 73kg player in 2010.
"There are eight other guys on paper in the draw that are seeded ahead of me," he said. "I'm a dark horse. I'm not really a favorite. The things I have going for me is that I'm not a favorite. I don't have this huge target on my back. I'm just going to open up and play judo freely."
The journey to London began when Delpopolo's father, Dominic, brought him to the Cranford Judo and Karate Center in Cranford, N.J., and signed him up for judo classes, where he trained under Yoshisada Yonezuka, who coached the U.S. 1988 and 1992 Olympic teams.
By the time he was 11, he had convinced his parents to allow him to pursue judo in Schenectady County with Jason Morris, who competed in four Olympic games and won the silver medal in 1992. When he first came to Morris, he already was a seven-time junior national champion, but his eyes were opened to a bigger world.
"I went to him and I realized how little I knew and how small I was in the actual big picture," said Delpopolo, who lived and trained with Morris for two years and graduated from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Middle School.
"I'm a one-man band," Morris said. "We have a situation where they live with us and we become their guardians. I dragged them out of bed many a morning to go to school."
After two years, Delpopolo returned to New Jersey, where he attended Bergen Catholic High School and was an accomplished wrestler, but he tore most of his ligaments in a knee when his foot was caught between two mats, ending his wrestling career.
To get him back on track, Dominic Delpopolo sent him back to Morris, turning his focus back to judo. He also graduated high school from Burnt Hills, the same as Morris.
"Jason has gotten me to that next level," Delpopolo said. "He's like my muse. When he's there, adjusting me and coaching me, I feel like I'm really hard to beat with this guy in my corner."
Under Morris, he made the U.S. junior world team, where he dominated for two years, finishing with 22 junior national titles.
Then, he got his first taste of the Olympics, even though he didn't qualify.
In 2008, 19-year-old Delpopolo qualified for the 2008 Olympic Trials in Las Vegas. The youngest competitor, he advanced to the semifinals and was defeated by Ryan Reser, ranked No. 1 at the trials. Reser went on to the Olympics. Delpopolo finished third.
"I was just too young," he said. "I wasn't a man yet. If I had another year to train, I think I could have done it."
After the trials and after his junior eligibility ran out, Delpopolo moved to Boston to train with Jimmy Pedro, a four-time Olympian and winner of two bronze medals (1996, 2004). Delpopolo unknowingly trained with mono for most 2009, but it didn't show in his results. He clinched his first No. 1 U.S. ranking when he defeated Michael Eldred at the Rendez-Vous tournament in Canada. He briefly lost the top-ranking to Eldred, but regained it in June 2010 after winning his first World Cup.
"I would go 1-1, 0-1, 0-1 at tournaments," Delpopolo said. "Then I had mono. Financially, I couldn't get by, but once I started winning, I felt like I belong here. Winning breeds winning. Then, money took care of itself. I got healthy again. I got confident again. It's a snowball effect."
That snowball carried him into 2010, where he finished ninth in the World championships in Tokyo. He then went on to the World Masters Tournament in Azerbaijan, reserved for the top 16 judokas in the world.
"Judo has given me a chance to really tour the world," he said.
In 2011, Delpopolo decided to leave Boston and come back to Morris. A month later, he became the first American man to win the Liverpool world Cup.
"I've got a fan base in Great Britain because I won the tournament," Delpopolo said. "I have some people that I wouldn't ordinarily have there, in my corner, in London."
He finally qualified for London by beating Eldred in an hour-long match, dubbed "The Hour of Power." Delpopolo had told a crowd of children at the Amsterdam YMCA on July 19 that was his toughest match.
"It was really cool," he said. "What people don't understand is that making the Olympics is a four-year thing. I was named to the team May 12. I wouldn't have been there if I didn't qualify. I wouldn't have even been there if I didn't think I could do it."
Morris won't be joining him in London, as Pedro is the U.S. Olympic head coach. But Delpopolo is familiar enough with Pedro from his three years training with him in Boston.
"I've competed with no one in my chair and done very well," Delpopolo said. "I'm comfortable with Jimmy because I was in his program for three years. It's going to be all right. I'm confident and I'm starting to peak."
But that doesn't mean Morris doesn't have some advice for his two students to keep their emotions in check and remain calm during the busy Olympic schedule, which included Friday's Opening Ceremony.
"It's a great thing in sports, but it is a long day," Morris said. "It can be very taxing, and emotionally and physically draining."
Delpopolo only got two days to recover, as he will spend his third day after the ceremonies competing. However, both he and Morris have described the Olympics as the "Super Bowl" of judo. However, unlike the NFL championship game, this one comes once every four years.
"I'm finally there," Delpopolo said. "I feel like I've just made the playoffs as the eighth seed. Am I going to make the most of this?"
He'll find out Monday.