U.S. women sharpened skills and coiffures for Worlds

Updated: June 27, 2011

By Mike Finn

There was something different about Clarissa Chun when she defeated Alyssa Lampe, June 11, in Oklahoma City, Okla., for the 105.5-pound spot on the U.S. World Championship team.

2008 World champion Clarissa Chun (top) avenged a 2010 World Team Trials loss to Alyssa Lampe in this year's event in Oklahoma City. (Image by Ginger Robinson)

It wasn’t just that Chun dominated — out-scoring Lampe by a 24-2 margin in two matches in their Championship Series — someone who defeated the native of Hawaii for a spot on last year’s World Team.

The only thing missing from Chun’s game this year was … her hair.

In less than three months after winning her third U.S. Open championship in April, the 29-year-old Chun chopped off much of her hair … before future opponents could.

“I recently went to Mongolia (for a tournament) and they were ripping my hair out when they grabbed my pony tail,” said Chun. “I looked at them and said, “Serious?” They’d look at me and laughed.”

There was nothing funny about how sharp Chun was in the Cox Convention Center as the 2008 World champion showed very little emotion after beating Lampe for her third World Championship appearance.

“I am so happy that I get to represent the U.S. again,” said Chun. “I just want to win the Worlds, I want to win the Olympic Trials. I should have celebrated more.”

Perhaps the pain of missing last year’s Worlds remained in the head of Chun, who also had to overcome a dislocated shoulder prior to the 2009 Worlds that still affected her a year later.

“Spending time rehabing takes time away from being on the mat, getting conditioning and timing,” recalled Chun. “It really stunk watching my competition and not being able to represent the U.S.”

There is indeed a different mindset among the four women who earned spots at the four Olympic weights. (The three remaining weights will be determined on July 2 in Colorado Springs.)

And no American woman is more focused than 2010 World silver medalist Elena Pirozhkova, who was born in Russia, but will represent her adopted country for the fourth time at 138.75 pounds after she defeated Adeline Gray, normally a 147-pounder, who dropped down to the Olympic weight in Oklahoma City.

As the highest finisher among the U.S. women in the 2010 Worlds in Moscow, Pirozhkova reluctantly takes over the leadership role for the American team this September in Turkey.

“I don’t want to put myself in that position, but maybe,” said Pirozhkova, who wore her usual pigtail look at the 2011 World Team Trials.

“I think the best thing a leader can do is lead by example. If the other girls can look at what I do, they are more than welcome to follow in my footsteps. I’m trying to do all the right things and feel that I have shown that.”

Oddly, one reason Pirozhkova, who grew up in Massachusetts after moving with her family when she was a child, did so well in last year’s Worlds is that she decided not to let any problems sideline her.

“I think it was my mental gameplan,” she recalled. “I didn’t work out three weeks before the Worlds because I had a concussion and could not work out.

“The biggest thing I had was the mental approach because my coach kept telling me that I could win this. My mental approach was really right on.

When I came in and had not worked out for a whole month, I remember saying to myself that it didn’t matter. I’m going to have fun with this. I was relaxed. I still got a little nervous but I really just enjoyed the whole experience. I would not give up and felt really focused.”

The other two Olympic weights determined in Oklahoma City were by two women who got a rebirth in the spot after continuing their training in Canada after finishing second in the 2010 World Team Trials.

At 121 pounds, Helen Maroulis dominated Ashley Hudson in two periods for her second World Team birth. (The native of Magruder, Md., finished eighth in the 2008 Worlds.)

At 158 pounds, Ali Bernard, the 2008 Olympian, defeated 2005 World champion Iris Smith, who forced a third period in Match 2 during the Championship Series.

To prepare for these moments, Maroulis spent this past year at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver while Bernard continued to wrestle and study at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan.

“I left home and went to Northern Michigan when I was 16,” said Maroulis, who attended the United States Olympic Education Center before also attending Missouri Baptist. “That was a transition. I’ve been trying to find out what works for me.”

That included moving up to 121 after competing the past three years at 112.5.

“I had some struggles with my weight last year,” she said. “It’s coming together for the Olympic year.”

“The 25-year-old Bernard believes the clock is ticking for her.

“I’ve had some up and downs and always seem to come back because I have the unfulfilled goal of being a World medalist and Olympic champion,” said Bernard, who finished fifth in Beijing three summers ago. “I’ve been doing this so long that it felt weird to stop.”

“I’m getting up there in my age. I want to do other things after wrestling. I feel like I have a couple more years of good wrestling yet.”

For these American women, this year’s Worlds are now the focus. But like the men, the Olympics are the ultimate goal on the horizon. And many are treating making this year’s U.S. team as a critical first step.