By Bryan Van Kley (Aug. 8, 2012)
A collective sigh of bronze-colored relief happened at Excel London Wednesday night when Clarissa Chun earned a bronze medal at 48 kilos. After four straight days of big-time disappointment by the Greco team and a bad early Wednesday afternoon session, Chun’s bronze set off a number of cheers and high fives from fans, coaches, USA Wrestling staff and a even a number of us in the press.
As I wrote about yesterday, Olympic disappointment seems to sting like no other. And when that momentum seems to start snowballing across a number of days and two of our teams, it gets even worse. To make matters worse, the all-important draws have seemed that they couldn’t be more difficult for our U.S. contingent. And both Ali Bernard and Kelsey Campbell’s draws for Thursday are horrible as well.
Chun dropped the first period to her Poland’s former World bronze medalist Iwona Matkowska 2-0. And the frustration level for the U.S. was peaking. But Chun responded with a cement mixer after a front headlock turn for two that pinned Matkowska and gave the U.S. their first real feeling of momentum of the Games.
She then rode that momentum through a solid bronze-medal win against the former 2004 Olympic champion Irini Merlini from Ukraine.
U.S. women’s coach Terry Steiner looked as excited as I’ve ever seen him after they left the arena after Chun’s win against Merlini. He talked about how happy he was, both for Chun and the entire U.S. team. He talked about how much Chun has had to overcome to get to this point … overcoming self-doubt and about self-imposed pressure.
It’s hard to put into words just yet; just how big this medal was for the U.S. contingent. Chun has shown it can be done here, when the Olympic medals were starting to look so elusive for the U.S.
Tonight was one of those nights where bronze felt like gold.
Chun talked about what this win can do for teammates Kelsey Campbell and Ali Bernard tomorrow.
“For Kelsey and Ali, I just want them to just have fun out there, focused and fun,” Chun said with the Olympic medal around her neck.
This was shortly after she talked about putting too much pressure on herself to the point where she started questioning her ability. That’s a big statement coming from a former World champ who was a sliver away from being in the Olympic finals in Beijing.
And in what was the most profound statement I’ve heard from our U.S. team and staff thus far, Chun reflected back on what got her over the hump in the last couple months. Over the hump that was more like a mountain of self-doubt and unhealthy analyzing of her ability. Now, with the medal around her neck, she feels like she’s turned the corner.
“Over the last two months, it’s been just about reacting…trusting that I am the better athlete on my feet and just wrestling,” she said.
Did you get that last part … just wrestling. Our athletes have put in the time and prepared well. The coaching staffs and USA Wrestling has been putting plans in place for our teams to peak for these Games for years.
Now it’s time to just go out and simply have fun and let it happen. Chun did that in her second Olympic experience. When that weight of expectation and pressure affects you negatively, the results look an awful lot like the U.S. performances leading up through this afternoon’s session.
Hopefully Chun’s performance and the United States’ first 2012 Games wrestling medal will lead to more W’s and medals starting tomorrow.
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