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World champion Clarissa Chun back on track, ready for big season in 2011

Clarissa Chun battles Japan’s Chiharu Icho at the 2008 Olympics. Larry Slater photo.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Clarissa Chun’s still got it.

She turns 30 next year, but Chun still has the speed, the skill and the fire that has made her one of the best women’s freestyle wrestlers on the planet.

Back healthy again after being slowed by shoulder problems the past two seasons, Chun has won back-to-back international tournaments in New York and Russia.

Chun is poised to pursue bigger goals as the calendar prepares to flip to 2011.

“This is a real important season,” Chun said. “We have to qualify the weight class for the Olympics. I need to stay healthy and build some momentum for the Olympics. This season is huge because everyone is gearing up for London now.”

The 2012 Olympic Games in London, England are now 19 months away. The top six finishers at the 2011 World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey will qualify their countries for the Olympics. The U.S. will have three additional opportunities, including a Pan American tournament, to qualify weight classes for London.

Chun was a surprise Olympian in 2008, upsetting past Olympic and World medalist Patricia Miranda in the final-round series of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Las Vegas.

Chun had the lead late in her Olympic semifinal match against World champion Chiharu Icho of Japan, but lost the match on a third-period pushout. Chun finished fifth. Chun came back a few months later to win a World title in Tokyo in 2008.

“The Olympics was an amazing experience,” she said. “I was very close to being in the finals, and that’s something that motivates me. It was tough, losing to Icho on a pushout in the last 50 seconds of the match. I worked too hard to walk away without a medal in 2008. I really wanted to come back strong and win a World title.”

Chun followed her strong 2008 season by making her second straight U.S. World Team in 2009. She was injured prior to the World Championships and fell short of medaling at the 2009 Worlds in Herning, Denmark.

Chun missed nearly the entire 2009-10 season after undergoing shoulder surgery. She came back shortly before the U.S. World Team Trials and fell to Alyssa Lampe in the finals of the Trials this past June.

“It was a tough year,” Chun said. “I tried to cram a whole season of training into a month and a half after being out with my injury. I wasn’t ready, but I wanted to be. I wanted to make the World Team. It was tough when I didn’t.”

Chun traveled to Moscow, Russia as a training partner for the 2010 Worlds.

“It was hard, sitting there and watching the Worlds,” she said. “I wanted to be out there representing the U.S. I wanted a shot at another World medal. I watched as many matches as I could and tried to get the most out of being over there. I drew a lot of motivation from it. I don’t like being in the stands. I don’t want to be a face in the crowd. I want to be out there competing.”

Chun started this season by placing second at October’s Sunkist Kids International Open in Tempe, Arizona. She lost to long-time rival Sara Fulp-Allen in the finals.

“I thought I was ready for Sunkist, mentally and physically,” she said. “I didn’t feel good at all and I didn’t wrestle well. I was a little tight for some reason. It was my first event since the Trials. I know I have to be ready every time I step out there because there are some tough girls at my weight class. I just tried to learn from my mistakes.”

Chun sat down with her coaches after the Sunkist tournament.

“Clarissa has so much ability and athleticism, and it all comes down to the mental part of it for her,” U.S. National Coach Terry Steiner said. “It comes down to training and making sure she does everything she can to be ready to compete. When she opens up and moves the entire match, she’s very tough to keep up with.”

Chun responded by beating Lampe in the finals of November’s New York AC International Open.

“I felt good that whole tournament,” Chun said. “I was real relaxed and comfortable. I didn’t overthink or stress myself out too much. I just went out there and wrestled.”

Chun then spent a week training in Tokyo with World champions Seiko and Miyuu Yamamoto of Japan. She followed by winning the Open Cup in Chekhov, Russia, earlier this month.

“It was good to get some good training in and good to get some tough matches in,” she said. “I capitalized when I had opportunities to score, but I need to open up more and give myself more chances to score”

Most importantly, Chun is healthy again.

“My body feels good,” she said. “Sometimes I forget that I’m 29 and I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s all mental for me. If I wrestle smart and wrestle the way I’m capable, I know I can be successful.”

Steiner said Chun is capable of being the best wrestler in the World again.

“Clarissa is in it to win that Olympic gold medal,” Steiner said. “She’s as good as anyone. She just has to stay on track. She’s in a good place right now.”

Chun said she is leaning toward retiring from competition after 2012. She has envisioned how she wants her career to end.

“To win a gold medal at the Olympics would be the pinnacle. It would be priceless,” she said. “It would make all the hard work and sacrifice worth it. That would be an awesome way to go out.”
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