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Michalak’s passion for wrestling drives him toward 2016 Olympic goals

All top Senior level wrestlers understand the dedication it takes to compete at the highest level in wrestling.

Wynn Michalak is no different, but, unlike some, he has some higher purposes.

“For me [wrestling is] just about making the world a better place through my gifts as a wrestler and being a coach and a friend,” said Michalak, who is currently an assistant wrestling coach at the University of Illinois, a job he described as very rewarding. “I really love working with the kids. I think that some professional athletes forget that they were once a kid and they once had someone mentor them. I love being able to give back to people the way I was given to by my coaches growing up. I work my butt off to be at the level I’m at, but it doesn’t mean anything if I don’t give back what I’ve learned.”

Michalak’s motivation comes from his Christian faith, his family and his love of the sport, which have combined to help make him humble and give him some unique reasons to love wrestling.

“Wrestling is a very difficult sport. Everything in the world of wrestling shapes you to be a stronger person in other areas, especially persevering and striving through hard times in the wrestling room,” Michalak said. “I love how you can work your butt off and overcome and just really feel a sense of accomplishment without having to win an Olympic gold medal. I feel very accomplished when I can just get through a tough workout and say I did it.”

While Michalak doesn’t need an Olympic medal to experience triumph, it is a goal, he said.

“I always strive to be the best in my weight class and I think right now I can do that because I’m healthy,” he said. “Just staying healthy and getting to the top is my goal. I want to have fun, win a World Championship and that hopefully will lead to the Olympics.”

National Freestyle Coach Zeke Jones commends Michalak’s love of hard work.

“The thing I like about Wynn is his drive and passion for wrestling,” Jones said. “The guy loves it. He just keeps wanting to get better and better and loves what it takes to get there. He loves everything that’s hard about winning wrestling matches at the world level. Whether it’s two days of travel across 12 time zones with no sleep, going on the road for 20 days to poor countries, eating terrible food, sleeping in a smelly musty dorm room in Russia, or drilling his whizzer/kick 5,000 times a day, he just embraces all of it because he knows this is the life of a World and Olympic champion.”

Currently, Michalak is on a break from training to focus on his coaching. Once the NCAA championships are over, though, he will be back on an intensive training cycle to get ready for the U.S. Open in Las Vegas in April. There, he hopes to come out on top and have a shot at winning the U.S. World Team Trials.

Michalak had an admirable winter season with medals at each international event he participated in, including earning gold at the NYAC Holiday International Open in New York, the Dave Schultz Memorial International in Colorado and the Dan Kolov International in Bulgaria. He also took home a silver medal at the Hargobind International in Canada and most recently earned bronze at the Alexander Medved International in Belarus.

One of the biggest wins of his career came in the finals of the Dan Kolov International in Bulgaria, when he beat 2012 Olympic champion Jake Varner of the USA, 1-1, 6-2, 5-1.

“Jake and I had a really good three-period match that we went back and forth on,” Michalak said. “Winning that tournament was a big step in my career and my journey towards making the World Team this year and hopefully multiple World Teams and the Olympic Team.”

At 96 kg/211.5 lbs., Michalak describes his own wrestling style as using his quickness and athleticism more than the brute strength many wrestlers at higher weight classes rely on. Also unlike some wrestlers, he tries not to let mental strategy get in the way of his intuition on the mat.

“For me, wrestling is fun. I don’t concentrate on the mental side of strategy as much as I probably should,” he said. “I think going forward I need to relax and stick to my game plan instead of trying to change it in the middle to win. I think [my strategy] just needs to be go out, wrestle hard, score points and let that take care of itself instead of thinking about what I need to do to win.”

Other things he’s working to improve in his wrestling are his defense and controlling the position so it is to his advantage, he said. One thing he does know is that he’s always looking for high point moves rather than single point takedowns.

“I feel like when I’m wrestling a match that has more points scored in it is usually to my advantage,” Michalak said. “So I try to score a lot of points, I try to be explosive and look for three or five point moves. A lot of the time I don’t really grind out a match and try to score one point takedowns, I get multipoint moves.”

Michalak plans to continue wrestling and coaching for the time being, but his long-term career goal lies in sports administration.

“I really have a passion for the administrative side of athletics. I feel like there is definitely a lot of merit to having a former athlete in the administration and in the business process, because then it connects the athletes to that process a little more,” Michalak said.

Michalak intends to give wrestling everything he has for the next four years to try to make it to World Championships and ultimately the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“Wrestling is pretty much my life. The only other things I have outside of wrestling are coaching and my family and God. I’ve had some ups and downs personally and I think that God has brought me along the way to make me a better person because of trials and tribulations and successes,” Michalak said. “I’m just happy to be the person that I am. I hope that I can use this to make a difference in other people’s lives; that’s what’s going to make me proud. I love what I do and I don’t do it for any press or praise, I do it because God gave me the gifts to wrestle.”
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