Two-Time Bronze Medal Judo Athlete Angelica Delgado Chases Gold At The Pan Ams
by Lisa Costantini
Judo athlete Angelica Delgado’s aspirations are crystal clear: She is determined to win gold at the Pan American Games Santaigo 2023. At 32 years old, Delgado is well into her judo career, with two Pan American Games under her belt, both adorned with bronze medals. However, her desire for gold is stronger than ever.
In addition to her two third-place finishes, she said, “I also hold eight Pan American Championship medals that are all bronze or silver. So, my goal is to secure that coveted gold this time.”
Currently competing in the under 52 kg. weight class, Delgado’s judo journey began when she was much smaller. Her father — who was a member of the national team for judo in Cuba before fleeing for the United States in the 1980s — taught her the basics in their backyard when she was nine. By 15, she was competing internationally; by 18, she had won her first senior national championships, marking the start of her illustrious senior judo career.
Her goal was always to go to an Olympics, with the ultimate target being an Olympic medal. “Since I was a child, I’ve watched old judo videos with my dad and looked up to Olympic champion judo athletes,” she shared. “So, the Olympics have been a lifelong dream.”
Growing up in Miami, Delgado is especially proud to represent the Latina community. “I am first-generation born in the U.S., and my entire family is Cuban. Representing my Cuban heritage means a lot to me,” she said. “I have never met another Cuban-American judoka who has qualified for the Olympics, so I take great pride in this.”
While Delgado’s resume includes two Olympics — Olympic Games Rio 2016 and Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 — she also knows what it’s like to not qualify for a Games. “The process of qualification has been instrumental in handling both the highs and lows,” she reflected.
“Qualifying and not qualifying for the Olympics have taught me valuable lessons. I didn’t earn a spot for the London Olympics in 2012 and that took a huge toll on me mentally.” So much so, she said, that she had to work with a sports psychologist. “I needed to talk through not being so sad all the time, and doubting myself.”
Her never-give-up attitude is now something that has matured thanks to her sport. “Judo taught me to fail, pick myself up, and keep moving forward,” she said about the perpetual cycle of successes and setbacks.
It’s how she can keep working towards the top of the podium. “I’ve been to two Olympics but haven’t medaled. This is my motivation to keep pushing forward,” she stated.
Delgado is determined to leave no stone unturned in her quest for gold. “Immersing myself in the training schedules of different countries and mimicking the regimens of top athletes has been instrumental in my preparation,” she shared.
Her coaches, Johnny Prado and Herman Valasco, have also been critical in her continued success. “They have been with me since I was around 12 years old and their guidance has been invaluable in my career,” she acknowledged.
Someone else who will be cheering her on from the sidelines is her new husband, Alex Turner, who also competed in judo on the U.S. national team — where the two met. Since their wedding a year ago, Delgado has been traveling a lot.
“In the past three months, I’ve been home for only about three weeks. I have been training extensively overseas, spending around a month and a half in Japan — the birthplace of judo. It offers a great training environment with high-level partners,” said Delgado.
The large gaps of time away from home make her the ideal wife, she said. “I told Alex, you never have to put up with my crap,” she laughed. “If he hadn’t done judo it would be really hard to understand that all I can focus on right now is getting better and doing everything I can to achieve a big goal.”
But before she and her team can think about the Olympic Games Paris 2024 — where she is confident she’ll secure a spot as she’s currently ranked around 12th in the world and the top 22 will go to Paris — the Pan Ams are her next stop.
The biggest obstacle she revealed will be something she is very familiar with: “I have lost the last three Pan American Championship finals to a fierce rival from Brazil, Larissa Pimenta. I’ve been working hard to get these kinks out and move past that barrier,” she admitted.
After that, her future is uncertain. “I’m often asked what I will do after Paris, and I can’t provide a definite answer,” she explained. “I have a bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and while I’m interested in a career related to sports psychology or coaching, my future is currently up in the air.”
That is, after Paris. Until then, you can follow her at the Pan American Games which are taking place in Santiago, Chile until Nov. 5.
Lisa Costantini has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for more than a decade, including for the International Olympic Committee. She is a freelance writer who has contributed to TeamUSA.com since 2011.