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Photo: Newly-hired Iowa women’s wrestling coach Clarissa Chun was introduced to over 14,000 wrestling fans and over 77,000 Hawkeye football fans in Iowa City, after the school announced the World/Olympic medalist would lead the program. (Photo by John Johnson)
Editor’s Note: On Nov. 18, 2021, Clarissa Chun and the University of Iowa made history when the Big Ten school announced Chun would become the first women’s wrestling coach of an NCAA Div. I Power 5 Conference program. The 2008 World champion and 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, who was also introduced to over 14,000 Iowa men’s wrestling fans and an additional 77,000 fans at an Iowa football game on her hiring visit to Iowa City, starts full-time in February as the Hawkeye women’s wrestling mentor.
Until then, the 40-year-old native of Honolulu, and an assistant coach with USA Wrestling, was taking care of previous international responsibilities; first working with women’s wrestling coaches in Saudi Arabia, before heading to Kiev, Ukraine, where she was part of a training camp with other international women’s freestyle teams.
She also took time to hook up with WIN editor Mike Finn over Zoom to talk about her future task of creating a varsity program that will begin full-time in the 2023-24 academic year.
WIN: Not only are you starting the first Power 5 program, but it happens to be at the University of Iowa, which ranks among the top “wrestling” schools because of the traditional success of the Hawkeye men’s team. How familiar are you with that tradition?
CHUN: When I started wrestling in 1997, the Iowa men’s team was winning consecutive team titles. At that time, wrestling was new to me and my first coach had me watch “Vision Quest” and follow the Hawkeye men’s wrestling team. To me, it was synonymous that if you wanted to wrestle, the place to go was to the University of Iowa, even for a beginner wrestler.
I actually applied to the University of Iowa, even though they did not have any women’s wrestling then and telling my mom to look for my acceptance letter from Iowa. That didn’t happen, but I wanted to be part of the wrestling program even though I knew there would be no chance to step on the mat and compete. Maybe I could have simply mopped the mats.
WIN: For many people, once it was announced that you were starting a women’s program, you were also becoming part of the Iowa wrestling tradition and people would hope or expect you to duplicate what Dan Gable, Jim Zalesky and Tom Brands have created since the mid-1970s. Are you OK with such expectations?
CHUN: I love those expectations and that’s what I want to bring to Iowa City and that is what is keeping me up at nights.
WIN: So, the pressure of becoming an immediate national powerhouse does not bother you?
CHUN: If I think about it, it might make me nervous. Instead, I’d rather think about what I have to do to get the job done. I know I’m not going to be able to please everyone and I realize there are going to be people who are not Hawkeye fans. I need to make sure I don’t pay attention to the unnecessary noise that won’t build the program up.
WIN: But how about the Hawkeye fans, who expect you to do what Tom Brands is doing? Are you OK with that pressure?
CHUN: That’s why I was hired. In a weird way, I haven’t felt those competitive juices that I used to have as an athlete until I applied for this job. Being competitive against the world on a coaching level, like USA vs. Japan, is good but the more competitive juices re-ignited when I applied for this position and it doesn’t stop there because I have high expectations and not only for myself. Frankly, I don’t want to let the state of Iowa down. I’m going to get support, but I’ve got to start winning.
WIN: Some Iowa fans ask if you are like Tom and Terry Brands because their style of coaching has led to national success. What do you think of that expectation?
CHUN: I’m also competitive and like winning as much as Tom and Terry
WIN: If you had a few words to describe your coaching style, what would it be?
CHUN: That I’m athlete oriented. I’m not saying that Tom and Terry are not because I know they are. I have not worked with them closely, but watching them in dual meets and such, it seems like they have good relationships with their athletes. For me, it’s understanding the individual athlete and trying to figure out what motivates them and the entire team as well.
To read the rest of this Q&A with Clarissa Chun, subscribe to WIN by calling 888-305-0606 or click here.