Let the Games Begin

Dec. 1, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Terry Steiner has always told his wrestlers there is something special about training in Iowa City. Now they get to see it for themselves.

Steiner, a 1993 NCAA Champion and three-time All-American at Iowa, is the head coach of the national women’s wrestling team, a position he has held since 2002 when he was named the first full-time women’s coach in USA Wrestling history. And for the first time during his tenure, Steiner and 16 Olympic hopefuls packed a bus in Colorado Springs on Monday morning to travel 12 hours east and begin a five-day training session inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex.

“There’s no better place,” Steiner said of training in Iowa City. “The people in Iowa are wrestling fans. They appreciate the sport of wrestling. It’s very evident after being away from here for a considerable amount of time. Coming back in you realize how important wrestling is in this state and this community.”

Steiner said there are many reasons to expose his athletes to the training you can only experience in Iowa City. The obvious reason is to acclimate his national team with the facility that hosts the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials on April 21-22. But the more important and less tangible explanation is to unmask the culture that has produced five Olympic gold medalists and five World Champions.

“There are legends and wrestling icons that come through this program,” said Steiner. “The girls know that. When you think wrestling, Iowa is synonymous with perfection and the constant pursuit of perfection.

“I know what the girls can pick up this week is not just getting a feel for the arena. It’s the whole atmosphere, the whole environment. It’s how people perceive the sport in this community. How the guys look at this sport and the expectations they place on themselves. I don’t want to limit the girls from what they can learn from here. Everyone will take something different from this experience. I know it’s a great thing. They’re excited about it. I’m excited about it. It’s a good thing all the way around.”

Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands is a two-time World Champion and former head coach of the USA national freestyle team. He said the opportunity to host the women’s national team is both unique and advantageous for all involved.

“Terry Steiner went the whole way to get this to happen,” said Brands. “It’s something he wanted to happen, and it’s important that we as an administration understand what we have. Gary Barta and his support staff took a big step to get the Trials, but now that we have it we need to realize what we have and make it so doggone good they never want to leave here.

“We got a message loud and clear from the front of the program — from Tom and myself all the way down — that we need to treat these people with dignity because they are good people and they’re about top-notch performances.”

Brands echoed Steiner’s comment that the visit to Carver-Hawkeye Arena goes well beyond becoming familiar with the brick and mortar. He predicts it will impact the wrestlers’ approach to competing in the 2012 Trials.

“I think it’s advantageous for any athlete in any country to be in Iowa City, Iowa,” said Brands. “You look on the walls and you look at the history of the program — from the Olympic, World and NCAA Champions that have walked through this place — and looking at what this program is about and what it continues to be about. I think it would be advantageous to anyone in the world to understand the history because it might make them better. It might help them become better people and athletes as they progress through their wrestling careers.”

For the women’s national team, the next step toward the 2012 London Olympics is competing at the U.S. Open Wrestling Championships on Dec. 15 in Arlington, Texas. The top seven finishers from each of the four Olympic weight classes will earn a spot in the 2012 Olympic Trials.

“We’re excited to be here and experience the Iowa atmosphere coach Steiner is always talking about,” said Elena Pirozkhova, who won a silver medal at 63 kg/138.75 pounds at the 2010 World Championships in Moscow, Russia. “It’s great to be able to experience the intensity of practice and see how much people love wrestling. It certainly gets us pumped up for nationals and all of our upcoming events.”

In addition to training inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex, the women’s team will be promoting the 2012 Olympic Trials by making appearances at Thursday’s Iowa City and Coralville CVB annual business luncheon, and the Dan Gable Wrestling Museum on Saturday for an Iowa Women’s Foundation function. The women’s national team will also perform a freestyle demonstration prior to the Iowa vs. Illinois dual Friday at 6:30 p.m. inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.