IOWA CITY, Iowa — Utah will be well represented when the United States Olympic Wrestling Trials begin Saturday in Iowa City, Iowa. With a combination of youth and experience, the locals plan on not just competing, but landing themselves on the team that will compete in London at the 2012 Olympic Games this summer.
"I expect to win a spot," said Centerville resident Ben Kjar, who will compete in freestyle at 121 pounds. "I have put in the kind of training and commitment to where I feel very comfortable and ready to compete against anyone."
For Kjar, who made a name for himself when he became the first-ever All-American wrestler from Utah Valley University in 2011, the road to securing a spot will be as tough as for anyone competing. Along with only the very best wrestlers in the nation, Kjar also has 2008 gold medalist Henry Cejudo in his weight class. Kjar has faced Cejudo twice in the last year, dropping both matches in overtime.
"I have gone over those matches and I see where I made mistakes," Kjar said. "In a tournament like this, with so much on the line, each match will probably come down to one little thing."
While Kjar qualified to participate in the trials several months ago, Tooele native and Boise State All-American Andrew Hochstrasser (freestyle, 132 pounds) just had his ticket punched last month. Hochstrasser believes having had the constant pressure hanging over his head to keep going to tournaments to try to earn that right to be at the trials will help him this weekend.
"I knew going into that last tournament that it was now or never," Hochstrasser said. "I've been training hard and having that edge throughout the year where I was still trying to qualify for the trials added some pressure, but this weekend is going to have a lot of pressure so I think it will help me mentally."
The Olympic Trials is a tournament filled with NCAA finalists over the last four years and returning Olympians.
For Springville native Jason Chamberlain (freestyle, 145.5), a trip to the Olympics would add another chapter to his storied career. The 2008 U.S. High School National Wrestler of the Year is also an All-American from Boise State. While still enrolled in college and a married father, Chamberlain noted that his approach to the necessary training has been an intense balancing act.
"My wife pretty much works full time and with our daughter we have been learning a lot about time management," Chamberlain said. "I won't be seeded, so I'll wrestle someone real tough early on and that's fine.
"I am always very relaxed so no matter who I wrestle against I expect to win."
Two-time Olympic Trials runner-up Justin Ruiz (Greco-Roman, 211.5) will not be competing this weekend. USA Wrestling reported that Ruiz will represent the United States at tournaments in China and Finland. If Ruiz places in the top two in China or top three in Finland he will be granted the chance to wrestle-off against the winner of this weekend's tournament. The winner of that match would become the U.S. representative in London.
Cael Sanderson, considered by many to be the greatest college wrestler of all time and Olympic gold medalist, will not be competing at the trials. Sanderson will be at the trials, but to coach four of his Penn State Nittany Lions. One of those PSU wrestlers is three-time state champion Matt Brown from Cyprus High (freestyle, 163).
Sanderson's Penn State team has won back-to-back NCAA championships in the three years the Heber City native has been head coach.
Other wrestlers from Utah with strong chances to earn a spot on the U.S team include Orem's Cheney Haight (Greco-Roman, 163), Uintah High graduate Phil Keddy (freestyle, 185), Zach Lamano of Layton (Greco-Roman, 145.5) and Uintah graduate Candace Workman (freestyle, 105.5), who will compete for a spot on the women's team.
Workman is known for being one of the first female wrestlers to wrestle competitively on the high school level where she competed only against male competition.
Gardner's bid over
After months of hoping for another shot at competing, two-time Olympic medalist Rulon Gardner of Logan was unable to get closer than five pounds to the 264.5 limit for his weight class. As of Thursday night, Gardner, the 2000 Sydney Games gold medalist, was still 15 pounds overweight. Gardner was unable to make weight on Friday morning, ending the 40-year-olds comeback.