Sunday, July 12, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bacher's Win Had Down Side -- Friendship Put To Test In Olympic Judo Trials

EDITOR'S NOTE: Another in a series previewing on Washington Olympians. ----------------------------------

In the exhilarating glow of her successful bid to make the U.S. Olympic judo team, there was a shade of disappointment for Sandy Bacher.

The moment Bacher qualified for the Games in the 72-kilogram class had two edges to it. It was the fulfillment of a childhood dream, the ultimate reward for years of pain and sacrifice. It was also the cruelest blow a friend could deliver.

Bacher, 24, beat her teammate and best friend, Tammy Hensley, in the 72-kilo finals of the Olympic trials. Until then, she had experienced few downsides to winning.

"We had trained together and been teammates for three years," said Bacher, who grew up in Seattle. "The toughest part was having to fight her, knowing only one of us was going to go. When I won, I was happy for a second or two. Then I looked at her, and we both started crying. It really hurts when someone you care about has lost.

"We talked about it before the match. We both agreed at least it was going to be her or me, rather than someone else. There were never any arguments or anything afterwards, but things were strained. It was real tense at practice, because it was something we both wanted so bad."

Bacher left Seattle four years ago to attend San Jose State University, which has one of the best college judo programs. She counted on top-notch training, but she didn't count on making rivals of friends.

Only one woman per weight class made the team. Bacher, who graduated from Franklin High School and attended the University of Washington for two years, went into the trials as the second-ranked woman in her weight class. Hensley was No. 1 but lost in the preliminary qualifying tournament, which Bacher won.

Because Hensley was the top contender, she got another chance in the final round of qualifying. Hensley and Bacher reached the finals.

"I was a lot more calm at the final trials, because it wasn't sudden death," Bacher said. "Tammy and I know each other's style very well. I think she was over-excited. She can try too hard and lose her cool. I thought if I stayed calm, I could catch her."

Bacher's advantage was her experience. Hensley is three years younger. Bacher has beaten Hensley twice more since her victory in the trials in February. Bacher also won her first senior nationals.

For the first time, women's judo is a medal sport in 1992. It was a demonstration sport in '88, when Bacher first entertained realistic thoughts of going to the Games.

Her passion for judo was nurtured in Seattle. Bacher got her start at the Budokan Judo Club, located on the edge of the international district. One of her first coaches, Bert Mackey, is still a close friend and advisor.

He paid his own way to both rounds of the trials and watched Bacher beat Hensley, offering pointers and lending moral support.

"I had to grab his hand when I was nervous," Bacher said. "He was there for me. He's like family, like an uncle."

Bacher still loves her hometown - she drives almost an hour from her home in San Jose to eat at a Red Robin restaurant because it reminds her of home - and the people that helped her get started.

"Seattle spoiled me rotten. I had to get out. " Bacher said. "It's like family there, but it's different being on a team than being with a family. The people here are all here because they want to be in the Olympics."

Bacher is a long shot for a medal. Her highest international finish was second at last year's world collegiate championships. At the '88 collegiate championships, Bacher tore ligaments in her knee. The operation and rehabilitation kept her off the mat for a year. Problems recurred as recently as last year, but she feels strong going to Barcelona.

"I can't hold back," she said.

Not with Tammy Hensley counting on her.

------------------------------ WOMEN'S JUDO ------------------------------

A preview of the event in Barcelona:

-- Dates: July 27-Aug. 2. -- Local qualifiers: Sandy Bacher, 72 kilos. -- Whom to watch: Lynn Roethke, 61 kg, won silver medal in 1988 (demonstration sport); Kate Donahoo, 56 kg, gold medalist at 1991 Pan Am Games; Jo Anne Quiring, 52 kg, seventh at 1991 world championships. -- 1988 gold medalist: '92 is first time as a medal sport. -- Last U.S. medal: Roethke and and Margaret Castro-Gomez (bronze) won medals in 1988. -- Fast fact: Japan has collected more gold medals, 14, than any other nation since inclusion into Olympic program. Judo originated in Japan. The word means "gentleness" or "giving way."

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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