As she looks back on her trip to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Marti Malloy sometimes has moments of disappointment and regret.
The reason is what happened in her semifinal match of women’s judo (57 kg). With time running out, Malloy took a gamble, left herself vulnerable and was slammed to the mat by Corina Caprioriu of Romania. In judo, such takedowns are the equivalent of boxing knockouts or wrestling pins. The match was ended and so was Malloy’s bid for a gold medal.
Even now, months later, Malloy ruefully remembers “taking a risk I didn’t have to take.”
But in the next moment, the 26-year-old Oak Harbor woman recalls beating defending Olympic champion Giulia Quintavalle of Italy in the subsequent bronze medal match, and finally the elation of stepping onto the medals podium.
“I was over the moon,” said Malloy, speaking by telephone from San Jose, Calif., where she lives and trains. “For me, (the joy) was in the accomplishment after so much dreaming and planning and hoping. I’d spent my whole life thinking about that moment. And it’s a cliche, but it was very surreal being up there (on the podium).
“Except for that one match, I’m absolutely content with how I fought.” It was, she added, a thrill “to get a bronze medal in front of my whole family and all my coaches.”
Malloy’s journey to London began nearly two decades ago. As a small girl in Oak Harbor, she went to watch her brothers in beginner classes, “and they were tumbling, throwing each other around, laughing and having a great time,” she said.
“I really wanted to do it, too, but I was really tiny and so they made me wait. I had to sit on the side and watch them.”
Her chance came when she was 6 years old, and she was good right from the start. She was soon going to tournaments where she would sometimes compete in two divisions, often against boys, “and I’d come home with two gold medals,” she said.
Malloy never turned out for team sports at Oak Harbor High School, where she graduated in 2004, because of her commitment to judo. She went on to attend San Jose State University because it has a premier club team that is one of six training centers affiliated with USA Judo, the sport’s national governing body.
Being in San Jose allowed her to work with coach Mike Swain, a former world champion and four-time U.S. Olympian who was a bronze medalist in 1988.
“Marti’s No. 1 strength is her passion for judo,” Swain said, “and it really shows in her work ethic. She’s probably the hardest working girl at San Jose State.
“She’s focused, she’s disciplined and everybody respects her for that,” he said.
In 2008, Malloy just missed qualifying for the Olympics in Beijing, but she made the team this year and won one of two U.S. medals in judo (teammate Kayla Harrison became the first American to win a judo gold medal by placing first at 78 kg).
Earlier this month, Malloy visited Oak Harbor and it was a terrific homecoming. She was honored at halftime of a Friday night high school football game. She was given a key to the city. And as she walked through downtown, she kept seeing pictures of herself in store windows with captions, “Congratulations, Marti.”
A closely knit community, Oak Harbor is very proud of its homegrown heroes. And at the moment, no one stands taller than Malloy.
“It made me laugh when I kept turning and seeing my picture in store windows,” she said. “But it was overwhelmingly awesome. People recognized me everywhere I went. It was so cool. Just a great experience.”
She has another reason to be grateful to the good people of Oak Harbor. Fellow residents chipped in with donations to help pay for her parents, Marty and Merry, plus brothers Reuben and Zane, to make the trip to London. Without those contributions, she said, her family “wouldn’t have been able to see me get my medal. And I wouldn’t have got to wave to them when I won.”
Malloy received an undergraduate degree in advertising with a minor in psychology from San Jose State in 2010, and has considered attending graduate school. But those plans are on hold because she is devoting herself to training for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“The priority for her is to take a gold,” Swain said. “She’s pumped up with confidence and experience, and she has a real good shot for Rio.
“What she needs to work on is her technique, which is basically repetition. If she can develop more precise technique, she’s going to get exponentially stronger. And by Rio, she should be the favorite or the second (favorite). She’ll be in the top two for sure.”
No question, Malloy said, her goal is the top of the medals podium in 2016.
“I definitely want to go for that gold,” she said. As gratifying as it was to win a bronze medal, “I still feel like I’m capable of more. And that’s the obvious reason I’m going back to the Olympics. I think I was meant to be in the final (in London), but I took a risk … and now I feel I have to make up for that.
“But it’s not just strictly unfinished business. The other thing is, I absolutely and totally love judo as a sport. I just can’t go a week without doing judo without really missing it.”