Wrestling season takes to the mat

By Andrea Llewellyn

Wrestling is as old as the ancient Greek Olympics, dating back to 776 BC. Although the University of Calgary Dinos wrestling squad has been around since the university’s inception, the team has had varsity status 18 years for the men and 12 years for the women. The Dinos Invitational Wrestling Tournament outdates the Dinos’s varsity status– Oct. 22 marked its 20th year.

U of C alumni like Christine Nordhagen have paved the way for women in the sport both nationally and internationally. Today, the Dinos women’s wrestling team is top-ranked internationally. While student athletes dueled it out on the mats in Calgary, Canada’s women’s national team achieved a gold and silver in Guadalajara at the Pan American games with only three athletes on the team.

Women’s wrestling in Canada garners interest because of consistent results– it receives more funding in Canada than its male counterparts because women wrestlers perform the best internationally. At the Olympics, women wrestlers have four weight categories, men have seven. In 2004, the International Olympic Committee cut back men’s weights from 10 to allow women to wrestle in the Olympics. In 2008, Canadian wrestler Carol Huynh (48 kg) won a gold medal while teammates Tonya Verbeek (55 kg) won bronze and Martine Dugrenier (63 kg) narrowly missed competing for bronze, placing fifth. This was only the second Olympics where women were included– they placed second overall out of 30 teams.

The Olympics are on every Dino’s mind with trials from Dec. 15-18 in Winnipeg. Calgary has a top-ranked wrestling facility worldwide– the U of C wrestling teams’ combative room and facilities serve as one of six High Performance Training Centres for wrestling in Canada and the presence of the Canadian national team athletes and coaches gives the Dinos an extra push in training. Although the national team and the Dinos operate separately, the practices are combined.

Senior Dinos team member Alex Burke said training with the national team has been important.

“I think having the support system from the national training centre helps bring in better athletes and bring in better training partners throughout the year,” he said. “Having [the national team head coach] in the room has helped a lot of our girls get a lot better.”

Fourth-year kinesiology student Erica Wiebe will have a lot on her mind this December. As the only varsity team member trying out for the Olympics, she will have to balance training with attempting to finish her degree by April. She currently ranks fourth in Canada– her club teammates Vanessa Wilson and Leah Callahan will also be competing against her to become a 2012 Olympic team member.

Weibe said the balancing act has been tough, but has made her stronger.

“I’m not too worried,” she said. “I am the only person going through this process of Olympic trials from Calgary, at least with exams and classes at the back of my mind– it has been kind of a struggle.”

Dinos head coach Mitch Ostberg, who has been with the team for 18 years, said the team is supporting athletes trying out for the Olympic team with extra practices.

“We’ve set aside extra workouts for people preparing for Olympics trials,” he said. “Championships for the varsity team are in February ­– the timing of competition is very different so we want to make sure they are getting what they need.”

Although the U of C’s student population helps fund varsity athletics, Dinos wrestler Brian Hutton said lower profile sports on campus like wrestling and swimming need more support.

“I wish that we had more acknowledgement of our sport,” said Hutton, a third-year geography major. “You see the posters for football and volleyball around and we have tournaments twice a year in the gym. [The school] is focusing on volleyball, and we’d like if the university made posters for us too.”

Hutton also commented that people are often surprised to learn the Dinos have a wrestling team, but that the U of C is a great place to start supporting wrestlers who dream of the Olympics.

Although the team is really young this year, Weibe said there are many athletes who have been training for years and that she expects the team to do very well.

“I think they just need to realize their own potential,” she said. “[The team] is really developing.”

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