SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- U.S. Secret Service Agent John Matsuoka has protected VIPs from Sen. Joe Lieberman to the King of Tongo. Now he has a new mission: to join the U.S. Olympic judo team.
Special Agent Matsuoka, who works in the San Francisco office, will make his final bid to be an Olympian at the U.S. judo trials at the San Jose State Event Center Saturday.
The San Francisco native was national judo champion in 1993 and 1994, but he retired in 1996 after coming up just short in his attempt to make the Olympic team for the Atlanta Games.
Yet despite his relatively advanced age for the sport -- he says judo competitors usually retire at age 28 or 29 -- he has decided to give it one more shot.
"At 35, I'm considered a dinosaur," Matsuoka told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I think my competitors see me as a dark horse. They're not sure what to expect."
Matsuoka joined the Secret Service nearly five years ago after working for two and a half years as an accountant. He said he joined the service because its high physical fitness standards help keep him in shape.
Besides protecting VIPs, Matsuoka works on guarding against counterfeiters and forgers and helps protect foreign leaders when they pass through San Francisco.
After putting in full days with the Secret Service, Matsuoka trains two to three days a week at Cahill's Judo Academy in San Bruno. At 5-foot 5-inches tall and 145 pounds, the fourth-degree black belt competes in the 66-kilogram division, the second lightest of judo's seven weight classes for men.
"I think his chances are really good," said Matsuoka's coach Willie Cahill, who coached U.S. Olympic judo teams in 1984 and 1988. "John, he's a great competitor and athlete. He's one of the best technicians. He's real methodical and focused."