It takes a lot to throw Jimmy Pedro. He was II the first time he got tossed in a judo competition, on his way to a crushing defeat. "I'd never lost a match since my first one, when I was six," he says. "More important, I'd never lost in front of my father." Jimmy fell to the mat in tears, but his father, Jim, a 1976 U.S. Olympic alternate in judo, carried him away and told him he was proud. After you have struggled, the elder Pedro explained, winning tastes that much sweeter.
Jimmy (below, left) has since tasted plenty of sweetness. He earned a bronze medal as a lightweight at the 1996 Games and since then has gone 90-3, winning the '99 world title. At 29, he arrives in Sydney favored to take the U.S.'s first-ever judo gold. His biggest fan and toughest critic is still his father, a firefighter, judo instructor and tree remover in Lynn, Mass. "Growing up, I never got in trouble," Jimmy says. "I toed the line. He was my repercussion. Every day he's up at 4 a.m. working. He can still kick my butt in the weight room." Jimmy, a Brown graduate with a business degree, spends four to six months a year on the road but still runs a judo school and edits Real Judo, the quarterly publication of U.S. Judo. He lives in part of his in-laws' home in Lawrence, Mass., with his wife, Marie, an elementary school teacher, and their three children. As the highest-paid U.S. judoka ever, he earns $35,000 a year in prize money and USOC grants. " Michael Johnson gets paid more for one race than I get in a year," Pedro says. "It's mind-boggling." As is the prospect of a U.S. gold in judo.