Women’s Olympic wrestling memories from 2004

Updated: June 7, 2024

Photo: Joined by Tricia Saunders (left), USA’s first World champ in women’s freestyle, the four American women who competed in the 2004 Olympics — from left, Sara McMann, Toccara Montgomery, Tela O’Donnell and Patricia Miranda — were honored at the 2024 NCAAs.

By Kyle Klingman

The 2024 Olympic Games in Paris will mark the 20th anniversary of the inclusion of women’s freestyle wrestling. Four weight classes (48 kg, 55, 63 and 72) were included with 50 competitors during the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece.

The following are insights from six participants and USA Women’s National Team coach Terry Steiner, who was hired in April of 2002.

Patricia Miranda (USA), 48 kg — bronze medal

Patricia Miranda

“In terms of timing and goals and exploration, how often do you get this perfect moment in time when you’re young to go see how far you can go with some hard work? We got to be part of the historic first residency class (at the Olympic Training Center) in Colorado Springs. I got to move in with a bunch of ladies. It was my first female team. We intensely trained from 2002 to the 2004 Games. I was lucky enough to represent the United States.”

Tela O’Donnell (USA), 55 kg

Tela O’Donnell

“It’s amazing what you can do when you’re standing on the backs of those who came before you. We got to stand on the backs of (four-time World champion) Trish Saunders and (USA’s first World medalist) Afsoon Johnston. We were able to reach the Olympics and we were that next level.

“Then the next group of women stood on our shoulders and our backs and look at what they’re doing: Olympic champions and incredible advocates for women’s wrestling. With all the amazing things women in wrestling are doing right now, what will the next 20 years look like? We won’t recognize it. It will be crazy.”

Sara McMann (USA), 63 kg — silver medal

Sara McMann

“Making the (2004 Olympic Team) was unbelievable. It was really hard to believe I was an Olympian. There’s no other way to describe it. It was the peak and the epitome of sports and to know that you are there and on that level is indescribable. You go from this scrappy little girl wrestler who is trying to fight her way to be accepted in the wrestling room to being alongside the top athletes that the world has to offer. It was a really big shift.”

Toccara Montgomery (USA), 72 kg

Toccara Montgomery

“I absolutely was honored to be part of the (inaugural women’s freestyle Olympic Team). I set those goals high for myself and for anyone to be part of the first of anything and to watch it grow is something that is hard to put in words. How many people can say ‘I started this? I was one of the people who was part of the very first Olympic Team.’ To think about it, 20 years ago doesn’t seem that far but it’s 2024 and it’s there. The math is sound.”

Lyndsay Abdou (Canada), 48 kg

“I was fortunate that when (women’s freestyle wrestling) was announced (as part of the Olympics) I was sort of at the top of my game. I might have aged out if it was a few years later. It was shortly after that I retired. I was lucky that I was at the top in Canada and I was at that line where I might want to move on to other things.

“It was a no-brainer when it was announced. I’m going to go for this. I have one shot. I have to do this.”

Tonya Verbeek (Canada), 55 kg — silver medal

“We heard that the 2000 Sydney Olympics would be the first time women’s freestyle would be included. That didn’t take place but it became official for the first time in 2004. We recognized it was around the corner for us. I don’t remember the exact moment the announcement was made. Maybe I don’t recall it that vividly because I still wasn’t ready. I was still trying to prepare to be ready for that level of competition and to know I belonged.”

Terry Steiner, USA Wrestling Women’s National Team Coach

“There was interest in (women’s freestyle wrestling at the 2004 Olympic Games) but the interest was more about how it was going to affect our men’s freestyle programs. People within the wrestling world hindered our development more than the people outside the wrestling world.

“They were concerned about what this would do to the sport of wrestling. What is this going to do to our funding? Now, half of our funds are going toward the female programs instead of thinking you’re inviting another half of the population into the sport. There were people excited about (women’s wrestling) but there was a huge concern.”

(Kyle Klingman, the former director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum, is an editorial content provider for Flowrestling.)