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|Sam Hazewinkel carries on family tradition by competing in Olympics
Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
Olympian Sam Hazewinkel made his first World-level team for the U.S. this year after a string of near-misses. John Sachs photo.
LONDON – Sam Hazewinkel spent years trying to achieve what his father and uncle did.
Make a U.S. Olympic Team.
Now Hazewinkel has a chance to do something they were unable to accomplish.
Win an Olympic medal.
The 29-year-old Hazewinkel will receive that opportunity when he steps on the mat for the Olympic Games on Aug. 10. He will compete in freestyle wrestling at 55 kg/121 lbs.
Hazewinkel’s father, Dave, and uncle, Jim, both competed in the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games as members of the U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman Team.
“The Olympics has been a dream of mine for a long time, especially after being born into a family with that kind of wrestling tradition and history,” Hazewinkel said. “I played with my dad’s Olympic ring and put on his jacket when I was growing up. I thought the Olympics were every kid’s dream. Being a fireman or a police offer, that stuff never crossed my mind. It was always about the Olympics for me.”
It has been a long road to London for Hazewinkel, who has had his share of near-misses at the international level. He was second in the U.S. World Team Trials in 2005 and 2006, and second in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Greco-Roman.
He won the U.S. Open in freestyle in 2011, but lost in the finals of the World Team Trials.
When Hazewinkel won the Olympic Trials this past April in Iowa City, he wasn’t quite sure how to react.
“After I won the Trials, I was bouncing around the mat like an idiot,” he said with a laugh. “There was so much excitement, and I loved every minute of it. You have so much emotion going on during that time.”
Dave and Sam Hazewinkel are the first father and son to make a U.S. Olympic Team in wrestling.
“My dad always encouraged me, and he never put a shadow on me,” Hazewinkel said. “I never felt like I had the pressure to reach the level that he did. To be able to reach that level, and join them and add to that tradition, I can’t put it into words. It means a lot.”
Hazewinkel trains in Norman, Okla., where he was a four-time All-American for Oklahoma. He is not being picked to win a medal in London, but he’s a dangerous wrestler who has gained extensive international experience since switching from Greco-Roman to freestyle wrestling in 2010.
He won a loaded weight class at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials that included 2008 Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo and 2011 World fifth-place finisher Nick Simmons. Hazewinkel beat Simmons in the finals.
The switch to freestyle has served him well.
“I always wanted to try freestyle,” Hazewinkel said. “I did all three styles growing up. My dad wrestled Greco, and I always excelled at it and always did it. After getting third in the Olympic Trials in 2004 and second in 2008 in Greco, I felt it was a good time to try something else. It gave me a little boost and a little energy by switching to freestyle. It’s been fun.”
Hazewinkel arrived in London with his Olympic teammates and took part in the Opening Ceremonies before the team headed to Belarus to train.
“It’s been non-stop excitement, which is crazy,” he said. “I am loving every minute of this. It’s really busy, but I’ve never been so happy to be busy. Life’s great. It was exciting to see the Olympic Village and go to the Opening Ceremonies. I have the Olympic spirit in me, that’s for sure.”
Hazewinkel said he’s ready to have a great performance in London. The U.S. has traditionally done well in this weight class.
In addition to Cejudo winning Olympic gold in 2008, Stephen Abas won Olympic silver in 2004 and Sammie Henson won Olympic silver in 2000 in this weight class for the U.S.
“My body hasn’t felt this good in a long time,” Hazewinkel said. “I’m loving where I’m at and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do here.”