Vanessa Zambotti looks to defend judo title at home

GUADALAJARA -- Always with a smile on her lips, reigning Pan American judo champion Vanessa Zambotti stated that she is coming to the Guadalajara 2011 Pan American Games with the duty of defending her title. She is conscious that she arrives even better prepared, more experienced and better ranked than four years ago.

The native of Chihuahua claimed that she feels more motivated than ever given that this is the first time her parents will see her compete in an international event. This is so exciting to her that she will fight focused solely on winning the gold medal.

"I feel happy; I feel well. This year has been a good one. I have been able to win medals internationally," said the Mexican star, who fights in the over-78-kilogram category. "Now the competitors are different. They are all different except for two. It will be a difficult tournament, a tournament the whole world is anticipating, and they all come to win the gold medal. But now the difference is that I am in Mexico and that is a source of great motivation for me.

"To fight in Mexico means a lot because I will be with my family. My parents have never seen me participate in an international event, only in national events. With my friends, with all the people who support me, that will be a very important motivation. Some people ask me if it won't be too much pressure, but I tell them that on the contrary, it will be an incentive."

Zambotti trained purposefully for the Guadalajara Pan Am Games. This year she competed in several countries around the continent, with great results, since she knows that in America's Fiesta she will face high-level judokas. Her main objective is to become a two-time Pan American champion at home.

"The competition level will be high. For example, there is the Cuban fighter who won the bronze medal at the Beijing Olympic Games. This year she has not fared well, so one must take advantage that she is not at her best. This year the Brazilian fighter won a silver medal, but I also fought against her this year and have already beat her. They are all challenging rivals. There are eight or nine competitors who are here for a reason: They come to win the gold medal.

"But I am quite motivated, because my family will be with me. I hope that experience is a point in my favor. These are already my third Pan American Games, and that is a positive for me. I have learned many things over these eight years," said Zambotti.

AP Photo/Armando Franca

Vanessa Zambotti kisses her gold medal at the 2007 Pan Am Games.

Zambotti is currently participating in her third Olympic cycle. Even though the Pan Am Games are not a qualifying event for London 2012, she knows that winning in Guadalajara would be very meaningful for both her state of mind and to continue her rise in the world rankings.

"For us, this is not a qualifying event for the Olympic Games, but it is very important since it provides confidence. Also, to win a gold medal would be huge for Mexico," Zambotti explained.

"I switched to a new coach two years ago and many aspects of my technique have changed as well as my form of attacking. I have matured. These past few years I have suffered big defeats, from which I have learned and which have helped me to get to where I am now. In fact, I started off this year ranked number 23 in the world and I am now ranked 12th. I improved eleven spots and am now qualified for the Olympics, which is very good."

These last four years have not been easy for Zambotti, as she endured two surgeries, but it all serves to motivate her. She is conscious that this could be her final Olympic cycle, and that after London she may retire from competition.

"The gold medal is an obligation, especially because I was the champion four years ago," she said. "I must defend my crown. I must win a medal. With everything that has happened, including two surgeries over the past four years, I cannot look back. I can only look ahead, awaiting the start on October 26th, hoping to reach the finals, to have a great performance and be able to celebrate with my relatives and friends."

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