OKLAHOMA CITY — Cael Sanderson beat Jake Herbert to win the 185-pound freestyle title at the World Team Trials on Saturday, capping a successful return to wrestling.
Sanderson, who turns 32 this month, qualified for the World Championships in September in Istanbul.
"After last year's World (Championships) I was just kind of thinking what am I doing this summer?" said Sanderson, who won four matches on Saturday. "I could have been a little more disciplined, a little more focused and I could have just wrestled. There is plenty of time in the day to add a little bit more and I really thought hard about it.
"My job right now is coaching the Penn State wrestling team and that is my top priority next to God and my family. I could go home at the end of the day and try and master (the video game) Call of Duty or be a little more focused and try and wrestle."
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 coached the Nittany Lions to the NCAA title last season.
He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame on Thursday night.
Herbert, a two-time NCAA champion for Northwestern University, entered the weekend as the top seed after winning the U.S. Open title in April. He won a silver medal at the 2009 World Championships and awaited the Challenge Tournament winner for a best-of-three series.
All day Sanderson showed the ability to scramble and be physical when needed. He gained momentum with each match.
"Early on I hadn't been in competitive matches like that in a real atmosphere," Sanderson said. "I think I was forcing stuff, trying a little too hard. It felt more comfortable as the day went on. I had to adjust and add some things to my offense which I expected."
Sanderson beat 2011 NCAA champion Jon Reader in the Challenge Tournament finals. Reader was recruited and coached by Sanderson at Iowa State.
Sanderson showed he still has the ability to scramble, coming out of a situation with a cradle to pin two-time NCAA champion Chris Pendleton in the second period of the semifinals.
"I don't think he ever got that far away from (wrestling)," said Bill Zadick, who is on the Team USA coaching staff and won a world championship in freestyle in 2006 when he was 33. "He was always kind of working out, leading in his room.
"That first match, first time getting down to weight is tough. Wrestling is a tough physical sport and Cael showed that he's still got that toughness."
Sanderson's experience should help the U.S. team in Istanbul. Three of the seven athletes heading to Turkey will be competing in their first World Championship.
"He is going to bring that work ethic and focus to a young group of guys," Zadick said. "It's really going to be a positive for the team in that environment."