RHODE ISLAND – On March 5, Gregory Portland junior Christian “The Beast” Konoval, age 16, intended to spend his 12-day spring break training at two elite Judo facilities in the New England area including USA Judo Olympic training center – Pedro’s Judo.
With the sudden coronavirus pandemic outbreak his trip turned into a mandated shelter in place. As with so many other sports and the postponement of the 2020 summer Olympic games, the cancellation of several Judo tournaments has left the upcoming potential Olympic athletes hungry for action and questioning when they will be able to return to the mats.
Konoval, the #1 ranked Cadet (under 18), IJF Junior (under 21) heavyweight and #4 Olympic Elite Adult Heavyweight, is finding a silver lining in the pandemic cloud cast over the world. After two failed attempts to return home with one airport shutting down and the second scheduled flight through a highly infected area, his parents and coaches agreed it was best to extend his stay.
With all GP classes online for the remainder of the academic year, Christian is able to finish his studies in a timely manner and devote more time conditioning himself for his Olympic dream of representing the United States in Judo.
The Beast, along with several other potential Olympic Judoka, are in isolation in rural Rhode Island affectionately referred to as “The Farm”. The group allows no outsiders in and limited trips outside except for essentials.
Konoval’s father, Adrian, says, “He is training like Rocky Balboa up there. He is chopping wood almost daily, eating healthy, lifting logs and still able to train his Judo with his housemates. I speak with him daily, and when I ask him what did you do today, he will surprise me with an answer like, ‘We were chasing chickens today.’”
His teammates sharing the 100-acre property support each other’s efforts both physically and mentally, and besides training they do team-building challenges and are learning life lessons. USA Judo International Gold Coach and Mayo Quanchi Judo and Wrestling Head Coach Serge Bouyssou said, “The athletes have a strict set of rules to follow including no swearing and drinking soda, and all have daily chores assigned to them to contribute to the day-to-day operations.”
Although the bulk of 2020 judo season will be a scratch, there is a light at the end of the tunnel tentatively set for August. Konoval, who is a six-time consecutive Texas state champion and two-time national and Junior Olympic champion, is set to return to the mat Aug. 27-30, for a combined “super tournament” consisting of the Junior Olympics and National Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah. On the international side of competition, the International Judo Federation is expected to cancel both the Cadet and IJF Junior World Championships to be held in Istanbul, Turkey, in early August.
Although the pandemic has been a trying time for so many, Konoval has pushed himself to turn the negative situation into a positive one. He has lost 20 pounds down and is down to an even 300, is stronger and faster than he’s ever been and has shattered his previous deadlift record of 465 to a massive 505 pounds.
“Christian is the best U.S. heavyweight I seen in a long, long time if not ever. He doesn’t move like a heavyweight; he’s strong, fast and extremely agile, and I truthfully and fully believe he will stand on an Olympic medal podium in 2024,” said Bouyssou.
Before the shelter at home went into effect, Christian was able to practice at USA Judo Olympic training center – Pedro’s Judo – and put on a show of athleticism going two stalemated rounds against 2016 silver medalist Travis Stevens now coaching at the facility. Konoval is set to return home to Portland June 6.