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No pain, no gain

In June, during a judo training session, Andreas Krassas suffered a ligament tear in his right ankle, limiting his ability to spar, to even walk without a limp. His doctor advised him to rest and recover, to relinquish his hope of winning gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, which were to be held one month later in Glasgow, Scotland. But Krassas did not follow his doctor’s orders, did not cancel his flight to Glasgow, did not waver in his commitment to return to his home country of Cyprus without hardware in hand.

“A lot of doubts crossed my mind,” recalls Krassas, DMSB’17, “but I had faith that all the training I had done leading up to the point of injury would pay off.”

Krassas, undeterred by the serious injury, arrived in Glasgow a few days before the start of the competition, one of 4,950 athletes from more than 70 nations and territories in the Commonwealth. Over the next two weeks, these finely-tuned physical specimens put on a show for hundreds of millions of viewers, competing in more than a dozen sports, from boxing and badminton to weightlifting and wrestling.

Judo, for its part, is a modern martial art, a sport created in Japan in 1882 by educator Kanō Jigorō. The aim of a judo practitioner, known as a judoka, is to score points by throwing his opponent to the ground or immobilizing him with arm locks, holds, or strangles.

Krassas started strong in his pursuit of judo gold in the -66kg weight class, winning four consecutive matches en route to the final against Englishman Colin Oates, ranked No. 7 in the world. But he lost and was forced to settle for silver, a bittersweet concession for an athlete who trains twice a day, six times a week.

“I felt that I was stronger and more technical on my feet than my opponent and he must have felt the same, since he looked to take the fight to the ground,” Krassas recalls. “Eventually, he managed to bring the fight to the ground and catch me in an arm lock submission, which won the match.”

Despite the setback, Krassas now plans to begin the two-year qualifying process to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Making Cyprus’ Olympic team, he says, would be a dream come true, noting, “It would give me a feeling of accomplishment that nothing else could.”

Krassas, 23, found judo when he was just 5 years old. Back then, his decision to take up the sport stemmed from his desire to mimic the indomitable athletic prowess of his grandfather, an undefeated Greco-Roman wrestler. Since 2011, Krassas has trained under Minas Mina, an expert in biomechanics at the University of Derby Buxton in England. In preparation for a big event, he trains with the Israeli Men’s Judo Team, one of Europe’s strongest squads.

The most compelling aspect of the sport, he says, is the unexpected twists and turns inherent in virtually every single match. “The match can change or even end in the blink of an eye,” says Krassas, who succumbed to Oates halfway into the five-minute fight. “That kind of variety keeps me excited for training and competing.”

If anything, his second-place finish in Glasgow has motivated him to hone his tactical repertoire, to focus on judo for the foreseeable future. “I’m very excited to graduate from Northeastern and pursue a business career,” says Krassas, a second-year business administration major with a finance concentration, “but now is the time for me to pursue judo with more conviction than ever before.”