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Kelsey Campbell hopes her amazing progression continues at Olympics
Kelsey Campbell reacts to a reporter’s question during the U.S. Olympic women’s freestyle press conference on Thursday afternoon. John Sachs photo.
LONDON – The day Kelsey Campbell walked into her first high school wrestling practice the coach didn’t show her any technique.
Or provide her any instruction or motivation.
Instead, he handed her a mop.
The coach thought Campbell was the new team manager. He had no idea that she was joining the wrestling team.
The lone girl on the team, Campbell joined the team after a classmate bet her that she couldn’t make it through two weeks of practices.
“He didn’t think I would make it two days,” she said with a laugh.
Campbell made it through those two weeks, and stuck it out through a challenging first season that produced only two wins for Milwaukie High School in Oregon.
She stuck with it and her remarkable progression has landed her a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in women’s freestyle wrestling at 55 kg/121 lbs. She will compete on Aug. 9 at the ExCel Center in London.
The 27-year-old Campbell had no idea she would be taking part in the Olympic press conference that she was involved in on Thursday at the Main Press Center.
“What I loved about wrestling was I wasn’t an outstanding athlete. I was a good athlete. With wrestling, you don’t have to be a great athlete. I worked really hard at it and just kept getting better,” she said. “I put in the time and saw the results of my effort. Never in a million years did I think I would end up at this level.”
Campbell is on a strong U.S. team that includes two-time Olympians Clarissa Chun and Ali Bernard, along with World silver medalist Elena Pirozhkova. Chun won a World title in 2008 and Bernard was third in the World last year.
Moving down a weight class has meant a more disciplined routine for Campbell.
“There are few things you have control over in this type of sport,” she said. “Weight control is something that you do have control over. After the 2011 Worlds, I met up with my nutritionist. I just said, ‘I need a plan, I need it to be specific. I will stick to it. You don’t have to babysit me. I need it to be this is what you can eat and when you can eat it.’ I stuck to it. It definitely came together as the year progressed.”
It took a while for Campbell to put it all together, but a girl who wasn’t supposed to last two weeks in the sport persevered and it has paid off in a huge way.
“I think my high school coaches and teammates thought it was cool that I was able to stick it out for two weeks, and that I even stuck it out period,” she said. “To be here at the Olympics, it’s really amazing to see how far I’ve come. I could barely put my shoes on in the beginning. It was awkward. It was like learning to speak another language because wrestling was so new and so different. Nobody expected me to be good, so I had nothing to lose.”
Campbell placed fifth in the 2010 World Championships at the non-Olympic weight class of 59 kg/130 lbs., but she is not considered one of the top medal favorites in London.
Two-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida of Japan is heavily favored to win the Olympics at 55 kilos. Veteran Tonya Verbeek of Canada was a close second to Yoshida in the 2011 Worlds.
“You don’t have to be the pick to win – you don’t have to be the favorite to win,” Campbell said. “You don’t have to be the best in the World to be the best on one day. I’m training to be the best in the World every day. I’m not getting caught up in where I stand with everyone else. If I do the right things, everything will take care of itself. We’re training to win. We are not training for anything else.”