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BIG TEN FEATURE - Otto Olson's return from injury motivates him for senior season



In 1999, Otto Olson of Michigan fell just short of his goals. Olson qualified for the NCAA Championships gold medal match and was defeated in the 174-pound finals by Penn State's Glenn Pritzlaff. He brought home a silver medal as a sophomore, a great achievement for sure. But Olson wanted more. "After the loss in the finals, I promised myself it would not happen again," said Olson. "The next morning, I started training for the next season." Olson's next season would end with a physical disaster. Midway through the year, at the respected Virginia Duals, Olson blew out his knee. He had a torn PCL and ACL, finishing his season and threatening his career. At this point, Olson's amazing work ethic kicked in, as he tried to rebuild his wrestling future. "That was a severe knee injury," said Michigan coach Joe McFarland. "I never saw a guy work as hard during recovery. The first day he was out of the hospital, he was in the weight room lifting. I'm sure the doctors weren't happy about that, but that is Otto." Olson began the slow task of rebuilding his strength and recovering his skills. The goal was to return to the mat for his senior year, this year, his last chance at winning the NCAA title that just eluded him. Nobody knew exactly how Olson would do this year. "He's a dedicated kid," said McFarland. "He's a leader in our program. He's been a great inspiration to his teammates. We would like him to have a good finish this year." Olson entered this weekend's Big Ten Championships as the tournament's top seed, and the nation's No. 2 ranked wrestler. It has been a good season, for sure, but not perfect. Olson was caught and pinned by Mike Barger of Oklahoma during a wild dual meet at the NWCA National Duals. A week later, he was defeated by another NCAA runner-up, Josh Koscheck of Edinboro, at the NWCA All-Star Classic. The Big Tens are here, and Olson wants to set the stage for another title opportunity. "I sat in the stands practically in tears last year," said Olson. "I felt I could be out there. It kept me motivated." Olson has moved through the Big Ten field with skill, qualifying for the gold-medal finals. A tight 3-2 win in the semifinals over No. 4 Jacob Volkman of Minnesota reminded him of just how difficult winning can be. He will face surprise finalist Ryan Hieber of Ohio State, the No. 6 seed, in the championship finals. "I'm been feeling really good lately," said Olson. "I'm not where I want to be. I just found that out in the semis." Olson has been a leader on the emerging Wolverine team, which climbed to a No. 3 national dual meet ranking this year, including a victory over the defending national champion Univ. of Iowa. McFarland gives Olson, a Washington State resident, tremendous credit for helping the team to emerge. "There's no college wrestling out there," said Olson of home state. "It's unfortunate. Sure, I would have liked to go to Washington or Washington State. You have to go out of state, pay out of state tuition, travel away from home." "When I was recruited, what McFarland was telling me was what I wanted to hear," he continued. "He wanted the hard-working, level-headed kid with high goals, perhaps not the best guy in the country yet. He said that is what kind of athlete he was recruiting. That is why this team has done so well." This season is not yet over for the Wolverines, but the dual meet victory over Iowa shows Olson just how far the program has come since he made the commitment to Michigan five years ago. "That was a high," said Olson. "We were fired up. We came real close to beating them at the National Duals. We realized there that we were really that good. In the last Iowa dual, it was time for all our hard work to pay off." Olson's college wrestling career has only a few more days left. Today, he goes after his first Big Ten title. Then, in less than two weeks, he enters his final NCAA Championships, looking for the big prize. "I have a goal I haven't reached yet," said Olson. "It's time to get everything together, and have all the hard work pay off."
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