London Olympics 2012: US women wrestlers answer the doubters
The four female wrestlers representing the US at the Olympic Games in London all grew up wrestling boys in high school, and have faced a lot of doubters in their years on the mat.
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An avid athlete in high school, Campbell was presented with a challenge from several of her guy friends. They dared her to join the school’s wrestling team, and they bet her that she couldn’t last two weeks.Skip to next paragraph
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“I just did it – kind of threw caution to the wind and went out,” she says. But she’s pretty sure the team’s coach didn’t take her seriously at first; witness the incident with the mop.
“I’m sure some people didn’t want me there,” she adds with a shrug. “You act like it’s not a big deal, but it is – kind of like a big white elephant in the room. I was the elephant.”
Campbell ended up lasting not just two weeks, but two seasons on her high school team in Oregon. She went on to wrestle in college at Arizona State, and at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs after that. She earned a gold medal at the Pan American games in 2011 before qualifying for the US Olympic team earlier this year.
It’s been a long journey, and she’s excited for her chance at a medal in her competition on Thursday. But she appreciates the bigger picture as well.
“As much as I want to win – and I love to win – it’s so much bigger than that,” she says, noting that women’s wrestling has come a long way since her coach first handed her that mop.
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Ten years ago, there were five college-level women’s wrestling programs in the United States. Today, there are 21. Steiner, the US women’s head coach, says that girls’ wrestling is one of the fastest-growing sports in American high schools.
But still some skepticism persists. A number of high school and college coaches haven’t come around to the idea that women should have a place on the wrestling mat, Steiner says.
“I always say it’s kind of like religion – you can’t push it on someone, you can’t force it,” says Steiner, who admits that even he was skeptical about women’s wrestling before he was offered the opportunity to coach the women’s national team.
Coaches have to see the value in making the sport available to everyone, he adds, noting that wrestling teaches important lessons about discipline, focus, and self-control. And it might not be a bad thing for the guys on the team either.
“What high school boy couldn’t use a little more respect for a high school girl?” says Steiner, who has a daughter himself.
“Having a girl on a boys’ team – that girl may never win you the state title, but she may teach something about human potential and just respect for the opposite sex.”
“You can’t teach that out of a book.”