Stevens of the U.S. earned silver in judo, but that's a sliver of the story

Travis Stevens, in the white gi, of the United States lost to Khasan Khalmurzaev of Russia in the gold medal match, but the two embraced as a sign of respect after the match. EPA/ORLANDO BARRIA

RIO DE JANEIRO -- After Travis Stevens lost his championship match in judo to Russia's Khasan Khalmurzaev on Tuesday evening, the two athletes embraced in a warm hug. They did so, Stevens said, because there is a brotherhood among the athletes in judo.

"Judo is a different sport than most," Stevens said. "We train together worldwide. The Russian team has been really kind to me over the years. They invited me to their national training camps. I stayed there for two weeks here and there. So I have a bond with everybody I compete with. We bleed together, sweat together, train together. We go through all the trials and tribulations to be an Olympian."

Stevens knows about those trials and tribulations all too well. A year ago, he suffered from a variety of illnesses -- a staph infection, cellulitis, etc. -- that caused one leg to swell to approximately twice its normal size. He still managed to compete at the world championships in Kazakhstan last August, only to learn back home in the States that if he had returned a day or two later, his condition would have been so bad the leg likely would have to have been amputated.

He was hospitalized and underwent months of home care, during which time he wondered whether his judo career was over.

"It was definitely a scary moment," said Stevens, 30. "And you tend to question what this moment in time is worth. I can tell you, it was worth every sacrifice I can make."

It was. Stevens took silver in the 81kg class, the first medal by an American man in judo since the 2004 Olympics.

While it is an honor for the U.S. team, Stevens also gives credit to the international camaraderie in the sport.

"I've trained with the Russians, the Japanese, the Germans, the British," Stevens said. "We get together, I would say, eight times a year for international camps. The best people in the world show up and we just work out.

"It's more of a brotherhood. We want to make sure every one of us is at the best shape we can be, and who better to train us than the people we compete against. We're the best in the world. ... If you don't train with the people you compete with, I'm almost at a loss for words as to why not because the better guy is going to come out ahead anyway."

It may be an international brotherhood, but Stevens still will be rooting on the U.S. the rest of the way.

"Right now, the next step is to enjoy the Olympic Games and the Olympic spirit and hopefully get to watch Team USA win a few more medals in more sports."