By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
Angel Escobedo (in blue) battles Obe Blanc in the U.S. Open finals. Larry Slater photo.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – It was 3 o’clock in the morning in Indiana when a groggy Angel Escobedo camped out in front of the television.
The 2008 Olympic freestyle finals at 55 kg/121 lbs. were about to begin halfway around the planet in Beijing, China.
By the end of the match, Escobedo was wide awake. Henry Cejudo was running around the mat and waving an American flag in an emotional display after winning an Olympic gold medal.
“It was very inspiring to see a kid my age do something like that,” Escobedo said. “I was so excited after the match that I couldn’t sleep. Watching that night, I was like, ‘Henry did it. Why can’t I do the same thing?’ He inspired me. I want to be Olympic champion. I want to win an Olympic gold medal.”
The 23-year-old Escobedo, who is less than a month older than Cejudo, is now looking to make a big splash of his own in freestyle wrestling.
The four-time All-American from Indiana has jumped into freestyle wrestling full-time at 55 kilos. He placed second behind Obe Blanc at the U.S. Open and is now preparing for the U.S. World Team Trials on June 11-12 in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
“I’m really excited for the Trials,” Escobedo said. “I’m trying to fulfill my dream. Making the World Team this year is a realistic goal and something I know I can achieve.”
Escobedo arrived at the U.S. Olympic Training Center last month and has been training in Colorado Springs ever since.
“Angel has the potential to be a World and Olympic champion,” said U.S. Assistant National Coach Brandon Slay, a 2000 Olympic gold medalist. “It’s been an absolute honor to work with him at the Olympic Training Center with a full-time freestyle focus.
“He is extremely talented and a very hard worker. Most importantly, Angel has a fabulous attitude and is very coachable, which will be keys to his success.”
Escobedo had a standout collegiate career at Indiana. He placed fourth at the NCAA Championships as a freshman in 2007 before winning an NCAA title in 2008 in St. Louis.
Slowed by injuries as a junior, he finished fifth at the 2009 NCAAs.
He entered the 2010 NCAA Championships in Omaha as the top seed at 125 pounds, but he was upset by No. 5 seed Andrew Long of Iowa State in the semifinals. Long then lost to Iowa freshman Matt McDonough in the finals.
Escobedo, who came back to place third, handed McDonough his only loss of the season in the Big Ten finals.
“NCAAs, that was a pretty big downfall for me – seeing the guy I beat two weeks earlier win it was difficult,” he said. “But I worked hard and I have no regrets. I knew my career wasn’t over after that tournament. I have a lot more to achieve in wrestling.”
Escobedo said he is considering several training opportunities. He is looking at the Olympic Training Center, in addition to the Regional Training Centers at Ohio State and Penn State. He also may help coach at a college program while continuing to train and compete.
“Being at the Olympic Training Center, I’ve learned a lot of great technique and strategy,” he said. “It’s been a great experience. They have great coaches and training partners out here. The coaches have taught me that I need a good game plan when I go out there to compete. I’ve studied matches from the Open and I’ve learned from some of the mistakes I’ve made.”
Jumping from folkstyle to freestyle has been another adjustment for Escobedo.
“It’s been a big transition,” he said. “I haven’t wrestled freestyle since the 2008 Olympic Trials. One of my strengths was going hard for seven minutes in a college match. I beat a lot of guys with my conditioning. I need to use that to my advantage in freestyle now.”
Escobedo, who wrestles for the New York Athletic Club, looked strong in the U.S. Open as he advanced to the finals. Blanc swept Escobedo 1-0, 4-0 in the finals last month in Cleveland.
“I learned a lot from that finals match against Obe,” he said. “I just didn’t get my offense going. I need to force the issue and can’t wait around. I need to pop off a shot in the first 20 seconds and go up 1-0.”
Escobedo made the U.S. Junior World Team in 2007. He went 0-1 and fell short of placing while competing in the same venue in Beijing where Cejudo won the Olympics a year later.
“I’ve dreamed about winning the Olympics since I was real young,” Escobedo said. “After I made the Junior World Team, I knew it was a realistic goal. That’s what I’m working for, to be the best in the World.”