There are any number of rude jokes that can be made about how freestyle wrestler Carol Huynh won her Olympic bronze medal Wednesday night in a raucous, steamy arena at the London 2012 Summer Games.. We shall not rise to the temptation.
Rather we will celebrate the fact that she glowed with joy, quite content with her third-place finish in the 48kg class, even if it is two steps down the podium from the gold she won in Beijing.
Still, we must explain the “clinch” because it is a curiosity of the sport.
If a period ends without either opponent recording a score, then a 30 second overtime is called. At that point a ball is drawn from a bag. The wrestler wearing the singlet corresponding to the colour of said ball then has the advantage of grabbing the opponent’s leg. Huynh was wearing blue, and blue was the colour of the ball chosen after the first scoreless period. That allowed Huynh to got on the offence, and she was able to dump her opponent, Isabelle Sambou of Senegal.
The second period was also scoreless. Same colour ball drawn. Same result. So, it took a pair of blue balls to get Huynh in a position to win.
But it also took strength and cunning in the clinch. “In my head I was thinking blue, blue, blue,” the elated 31-year-old said later. “I wanted to go out with a little more flare. I didn’t want it to end in two clinches, but you know what, I’ll take it. I want that bronze medal.” After all, says Huynh of the clinch, the match has to end somehow. “I guess in the past, 100 years ago, they’d keep wrestling for 10 days straight. We don’t want that.” No, we don’t.
The hunger to win was something that was slow to return after her triumph in Beijing. She was tired and battered with neck and knee issues, and she was also juggling psychology studies at Simon Fraser University, and then a masters in counseling psychology at Athabasca University in Alberta.
Part of what got her back in the game was coaching young people, and feeding off their energy, says her coach, Paul Ragusa. She agrees. It took a couple of years for the joy to return, she said, but it’s back with a vengeance. “I love the competition and I love being in control and feeling that I was really good at something. Wrestling has definitely brought me that,” she says.
There’s also the fun of being part of a successful program. Wrestling in Canada is women’s work, no matter what one says of the clinch. Since 2008, Canada has won 11 medals at world championships—all of them by women.
There were two Canadian bronzes up for grabs Wednesday. A crestfallen Martine Dugrenier, a three-time world champion and eight-time national champion once again finished 5th in the medal round of the 63kg event, the same heartbreaking result as Beijing.
“Ah man, it kills me,” says Leigh Vierling, her coach. “Here we are. fifth place this Olympics. It’s kind of like kissing your sister.”