Twice it seemed like U.S. wrestler Jacob Varner was on the verge of being thrown off the mat. Twice, however, he tiptoed the edge of the mat and leapt behind his opponent to score single point takedowns.
That was all he needed to win the gold medal Sunday in the 96+kg weight class at the London 2012 freestyle wrestling competition.
Varner, who grew up in Bakersfield, Calif. before wrestling for Iowa State, beat Valerie Andriitsev of Ukraine 1-0, 1-0 to win the first U.S. gold in the heavyweight class since his coach Cael Sanderson won in Athens 2004.
Scripps London was on hand as Varner captured his historic medal and captured the moment in the slideshow above.
This trip is full of surprises. Since I am an aspiring journalist, I don’t mind. I think surprises are what make my life entertaining. Surprises, like the car that speeds by, drenching me with a mixture of puddle water and dirt, or the first taste of cereal when the milk that you poured surprisingly has been bad since a week or two ago.
I love surprises. Little did I realize, I would actually enjoy the surprise I received on Wednesday.
But first, Monday: After class we toured The Guardian, a national British newspaper in Berliner format. It was beautiful. I loved the modern, edgy news station. It had colored furniture, a laid back atmosphere, and coffee everywhere. I could see myself working in a place like The Guardian. My classmate and fellow Londoner, Holly Moody describes our tour way better than I ever could.
Kayla and I were interested in a couple of the wrestlers on the Olympic team for stories. Coleman Scott, the wrestler from Waynesburg that I mentioned a few posts back, was someone I really wanted to do a story about. He grew up 15 minutes from my house and he has a huge following in that area, and now he was in the games. Kayla and I applied to go to wrestling practice as journalists and our credentials were thankfully accepted. So off we went to the University of East London. This is where Women’s and Men’s basketball practices are as well. We made it just in time at 11 a.m. I saw Coleman just sitting on one of the benches by the mats, listening to music while the rest of the wrestlers were being surrounded by media. I approached him and reached out my hand.
“Hi, I’m Melissa and I’m a journalist from Morgantown,” I said. His face lit up.
When I asked if I could ask him some questions he did not mind at all, he was humble and happy to speak with me. I love when athletes are like this. He was easy to talk to and I enjoyed the interview. I am currently working on getting the story up so I don’t want to spoil it! Keep a look out on ourLondon site! His wife will be here on Saturday to watch him compete. Saturday will be a huge day for him, I wish him the best of luck. Go USA!
As Kayla and I were leaving the wrestling practice, feeling very good about our interviews and content, we saw Kobe Bryant walking to the restroom right in front of us. I could not believe it!
A few of our friends in our group had access to the practice today, but they could not make it because the practice was moved up to earlier in the day. So Kayla and I attempted to get it. They let us. We walked into the gym to see the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, among many more.
Kayla and I walked around and tried to blend in with the other journalists. We tried to act like we knew what we were doing, but we didn’t and we were too ecstatic to even be there! I could not believe I was staring at these phenomenal players with my own eyes. So many of the players were surrounded by ESPN, NBC and more. It was so hard to get an interview.
Once we saw people leaving LeBron James’s side, we scooted closer. I got the recorder out and Kayla started filming. I noticed he was sort of staring at us. I looked behind my shoulder to see if there was someone else behind me, but there wasn’t. He saw our Ohio University polos, and I knew that’s what grabbed his attention. As I got closer he finally turned towards me and said, “I like your polos.”
Kayla and I gleamed with excitement. I told him we went to school at OU. He obviously was familiar with the school. Once we started talking I could see a gentle smile come over his face. He realized we were so grateful to be there, and he felt that Ohio connection. I could tell he was sick of hearing the same things from the same kind of journalists. I think he felt refreshed by our bubbly presence. I asked him what emotions/feelings were different from the last Olympics and how it has felt to be a part of so many. He also talked about his mom in Akron and how he spends time in the summer there. I asked if it would be OK if we got a picture with him. He said of course. Little did we know, that is not allowed at these media practices and security started rushing towards us as the picture was snapped. LeBron spoke up defensively and said, “It’s OK. They’re from Ohio.”
After living in Ohio for a few years I started to build up my own resentment towards LeBron since many “despise” him. Today that all melted away. I remember watching “The Decision” back in high school. I never thought I would come face to face with the man who was “taking his talents to South Beach”.
That left my mind today. He was overall a decent, sweet man. I did not expect that attitude or kindness to come from him, but it did. He saw us as just two girls from Ohio trying to chase their dreams. I think he saw a little bit of himself in us deep down somewhere. Today I saw a soft spot in Mr. James’s heart. It was one of the highlights of my life so far to say the least.
LONDON – Coleman Scott started wrestling when he was six years old, hoping to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.
“I watched the Olympics when I was 10, at that point I knew that was the ultimate goal in wrestling for me,” he said. Scott’s grandfather, a former wrestler, showed Scott that wrestling could be in his future.
Even though being an athlete was his goal, the Waynesburg, Penn. resident now holds other titles.
Scott is a husband and fairly recently, a father. Scott met his wife Jessica when they were both in college at Oklahoma State. They now have a one-year-old daughter, Leighton.
“Jessica didn’t know a thing about wrestling before she met me,” he said.
Being an athlete, husband and father can be hard work, but not in Scott’s eyes.
“It’s an awesome experience,” he said. “They keep me humble and motivated.”
Scott was one of three wrestlers competing for the freestyle 60kg spot on the U.S Olympic team. He won the 60kg weight class at the 2012 Olympic team trials on June 7, beating Shawn Bunch in a best two-out-of-three series to clinch a berth to the London games. He won the first, but dropped the second match and had to rally in the third to win by five points.
“I envisioned winning by five points before the match,” he said. “It was mind blowing.”
Scott’s next crucial competition will take place on Saturday, Aug. 11. The action will start at 1 p.m. London time. He is preparing mentally and physically for one of the biggest days in his career.
Scott said he wants to remain constant and relaxed while in London. He knows there is no reason to get frustrated or nervous.
“I want to stay calm and keep my routine,” he said. “I listen to my coach and just show up to practice, they tell me what to do.”
The Oklahoma State alum realized that the hardest part of training was managing your weight. However, after 20 years of competing, that is no longer an issue for Scott.
“Now there is no struggle for me to gain or loose weight,” he said. “I do it right, I maximize my performance by keeping everything in line.”
In fact, Scott says the lessons he’s learned in wrestling have already helped him off the mat.
“These experiences have prepared me so well for life,” he said. “Cutting weight and the grind of the sport made me a better person. When I do get out in the real world, I know I will be ready because of wrestling,”
LONDON – Even though he is a native of Bulgaria, Tervel Dlagnev moved to the United States at the age of four. He did not start wrestling until his sophomore year of high school. From there he continued to wrestle when attending Nebraska-Kearny. Now the Columbus resident will represent Team USA in men’s freestyle wrestling.
This is Dlagnev’s first time on an Olympic team. At 6’2″ and 120 kg/264.5 lbs, Dlagnev said he knows what he needs to do to prepare himself.
“I’ve had four years of preparing my thoughts, my body and getting ready in every way,” said Dlagnev. “I know what has to be done and I know the expectations so they’re not sneaking up on me.”
The first round of freestyle begins Friday, Aug. 10, and Dlagnev hits the mat on Saturday.
“Everything is going well,” said Dlagnev. “I feel that physically, mentally, and spiritually I’m just great.”
He is thankful for the fans from Nebraska, Texas, and even Columbus, Ohio who have been supporting him.
“ [To my fans] thanks for the support first of all,” said Dlagnev. “Tune in Friday, Saturday and Sunday because USA freestyle is going to make some noise.”