Cael Sanderson enters wrestling Hall, confirms comeback

By Jeff Latzke

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, June 9 2011 9:40 p.m. MDT

FILE - This Aug. 28, 2004, file photo shows Cael Sanderson, of the United States, right, wrestling Moon Eui Jae, of Korea, during the men's freestyle 84kg wrestling final bout at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Sanderson won and got the gold medal. After a perfect college career, Olympic gold and a national championship as a coach, Sanderson is inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, even though his career as an athlete might not be over.

Ricardo Mazalan, File, Associated Press

STILLWATER, Okla. — Entering a hall of fame is often a chance to look back at an athlete's marvelous career.

Cael Sanderson entered the National Wrestling Hall of Fame on Thursday night, then confirmed that his career isn't over yet.

The Heber City native will weigh in Friday for the World Team Trials in Oklahoma City, then be back on the mat wrestling on Saturday in a bid to represent the U.S. at the world championships.

Sanderson got out of wrestling shortly after winning an Olympic gold medal in 2004, following his 159-0 career at Iowa State — the first ever perfect four-year run through college competition. He's now the head coach at Penn State and led the Nittany Lions to the NCAA title last season.

"It's just something I can't really explain. I just want to do it. I'm excited about it," Sanderson told The Associated Press after his induction. "I had a window of opportunity here with this being this time of the year in the offseason of our college season. It was just something that I just want to give it a shot and enjoy it.

"I just love competing, I love wrestling and it's been a long time. I have maybe a couple more years or a year or right now or one tournament. Who knows? We'll find out."

Considering his layoff, Sanderson said he isn't starting out with the 2012 London Olympics in mind. But eventually that's what he's aiming for.

"I would love it. The Olympics are the ultimate," Sanderson said. "If I'm competitive enough that I could compete at that level, that'd be a lot of fun."

Sanderson, 31, never really planned to make a comeback. But as he continued to work with his team at Penn State, he found he still had the desire inside himself.

"If you're once a competitor, you're always a competitor," Sanderson said. "It's just that you're competing at different things.

"We had a lot of fun this year and our team wrestled with a lot of passion. It just kind of sparked that fire a little bit."

Teyon Ware, the U.S. Open champion at 145½ pounds, works out in Sanderson's gym and saw the physical signs that he was considering a return.

"To be honest with you, the way I see him battle with those guys in the room, he knows the game," Ware said. "I think I'm more worried for him than he is. ... I think he's going to show out."

Sanderson entered the hall of fame along with 1996 Olympic silver medalist Dennis Hall, 1964 Olympic bronze medalist Dan Brand and two-time NCAA champion Dick Delgado. He was presented by his college coach and longtime mentor Bobby Douglas.

"There's so many people that help you create that story and the journey has so many different variables in there that it's cool," Sanderson said. "It's one of those things that it's in the hands of somebody else voting you in, so I really appreciate that."

In his induction video, Sanderson described how he got started as a child wrestling in a recreational club started by his father. That's where his love for the sport, and for competition, developed.

Eventually, he'd turn into perhaps the best college wrestler ever.

"I don't think back too often. You have to, or you get to, I guess occasionally on an evening like this and it's fun" Sanderson said.

"It seems like a lifetime ago. Seven and 10 years ago those different things happened, but it's pretty special."

Sanderson didn't say a word about his comeback during the induction ceremony and he's not trying to draw attention to what he's out to accomplish.

"I just want to make sure I try and do the best that I can with the abilities I've been given. I don't know what that is," Sanderson said. "I know I've been blessed and had a lot of good fortune. Maybe I can do more, maybe I can't but there's only one way to find out."

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