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Friendly foes: Mary Kelly, Clarissa Chun set to meet in Special Wrestle-off for spot on U.S. World Team



COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - It's less than two weeks before one of the biggest matches of her life when Mary Kelly hops on an exercise bicycle in the wrestling room at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

Already pedaling on the bike directly to Kelly's left is Clarissa Chun.

The long-time friends quickly strike up a conversation and within a few seconds they are sharing a laugh at the end of a World Team Camp training session.

Kelly and Chun talk about virtually anything. But one subject that won't come up is their upcoming match.

Kelly and Chun, the top American women's freestyle wrestlers at 48 kg/105.5 pounds, are scheduled to meet Aug. 30 in a Special Wrestle-off to determine the final spot on the U.S. World Team.

The best-of-3 series between Kelly and Chun is scheduled for 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and, if necessary, at noon in the Sports Center II upstairs gymnasium above the wrestling room in the Olympic Training Center.

The sport of wrestling has had its share of heated rivalries. This isn't one of them.

"Clarissa is probably the nicest girl I've ever met through wrestling," Kelly said. "She's really genuine and really nice. I really like her a lot. We've been wrestling each other for a really long time. We've always been able to keep a really good friendship through everything. Clarissa works really hard. Whoever wins really deserves it. I will definitely support her if she makes the team."

Kelly (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) and Chun (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) already have decided that whomever wins the wrestle-off will take the other to China as their training partner for the World meet.

"It's a very healthy situation between us," Chun said. "We'll both be there in China to support each other no matter what happens. Some people think it's weird that we talk and we're still friends, but we've been friends a long time and that's not going to change. Mary's a great girl - she's very cool and just a really neat person. On the mat, you don't even think about being friends. You just go out and compete hard and try to win the match."

Chun, who turns 25 on Sunday, was a 2000 U.S. World Team member. Kelly, who turns 23 on Oct. 2, is looking to make her first World Team. The World Championships are set for Sept. 25-Oct. 1 in Guangzhou, China.

"We're pretty even - we seem to go back and forth," Chun said. "On any given day, either one of us can win. We've wrestled so many times that we know exactly what the other person is going to do."

They've been friends since their days in high school. Kelly grew up in Illinois and Chun in Hawaii. Kelly handed Chun her only loss in high school. They were on the Junior World Team together and competed in many of the same events.

"When we were younger, she would send me stuff from Hawaii and I would send her stuff from Illinois," Kelly said. "We would send each other singlets and T-shirts and stuff like that. For my birthday, she sent me chocolate covered Macadamia nuts when I was at college."

Chun won the U.S. Nationals in April, but was unable to wrestle at June's U.S. World Team Trials because of an injury. Chun was permitted a Special Wrestle-off at a later date by virtue of winning the U.S. Nationals. Kelly won the World Team Trials.

They wrestled each other during the beginning of training camp and have done some drilling together, but haven't wrestled each other live lately since they have the wrestle-off coming up.

"We haven't really talked about the match," Kelly said. "When we're out there we'll just be focused on wrestling hard for those six minutes. We won't be thinking about the friendship. When we're done wrestling, we'll be friends just like we've always been."

The 4-foot-11 Chun has had the upper-hand on the 5-foot-3 Kelly in recent years before Kelly moved up to 51 kg/112 pounds. Kelly placed second at 112 at last year's U.S. World Team Trials. She moved back down to 105.5 this year and placed third at the U.S. Nationals with Chun winning the title.

Kelly then broke through to knock off past World silver medalist Stephanie Murata in the best-of-3 finals at the World Team Trials in June.

The most recent match between Kelly and Chun came in the Dave Schultz Memorial International in February. Kelly beat Chun 4-0, 4-0 in the consolation semifinals en route to placing third.

Kelly and Chun both showed early promise by excelling internationally when they were younger. Kelly was a 1999 Cadet World champion before becoming a Junior World silver medalist in 2000 and a Junior World bronze medalist in 2003. Chun was eighth in the 2000 Junior World meet and fifth in 2001.

Kelly is training full-time now as a resident-athlete at the Olympic Training Center. She moved to Colorado Springs earlier this year after spending time in the U.S. Olympic Education Center program at Northern Michigan.

"I am just focusing on wrestling right now and then planning on going back to school afterwards to finish my degree," Kelly said. "It would mean a lot to make a World Team. I really don't plan on wrestling a whole lot longer.

"I have other goals I want to accomplish in life. I want to have a family and kids, a nice job and a nice home. Wrestling is a big part of my life, but I don't want to do it forever."

Chun injured her left knee in practice shortly after winning the U.S. Nationals. She had arthroscopic surgery and returned to the mat last month. She also has been battling a shoulder ailment.

"It's been kind of up and down - I'm not 100 percent," Chun said. "I feel like I'm getting close at times and then I have a setback. One week I feel great and then the next week it's different."

Kelly has been battling neck, shoulder and back injuries.

"We're both a little beat up right now," Kelly said.

The current World Team Camp for the women ends on Friday.

"I needed this camp to get back to where I want to be as far as my shape and my timing and everything," Chun said. "I had been off for a while because of the surgery. I want to go through the camp as much as I can, but I don't want to run myself down too much. I want to make sure I can peak and still feel good for the wrestle-off against Mary."

Kelly shares a similar view.

"I want to start tapering now and slowing things down," Kelly said, "so I can recover and get my weight down for the wrestle-off."

When the two wrestlers walk off the mat after their series is completed next week, Kelly and Chun expect nothing to change between them.

"There's no reason why you should hate somebody or wish bad things upon somebody, especially someone like Clarissa who is a perfectly good, genuine, nice person," Kelly said. "There's no reason for that."
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