Sunday, April 22, 2012
Henry Cejudo loses at trials, retires
ESPN.com news services
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Olympic champion Henry Cejudo returned to wrestling to inspire people and try to win a gold medal with his mother in the stands in London.
It didn't work out as the 2008 gold medalist hoped, so Cejudo quickly called it a career.
Cejudo's comeback bid ended with a loss in the semifinals of the U.S. Olympic trials Sunday. Cejudo, the freestyle champion in Beijing four years ago at 55 kilograms, fell to top-seeded Nick Simmons 3-0, 5-9, 5-2.
The 25-year-old Cejudo removed his shoes after the loss -- symbolic of a wrestler retiring -- and flung them into the crowd in Iowa City.
"I can honestly say I'm sad. But at the same time, I gave it my all," Cejudo said. "I wasn't meant to be an Olympic champion. ... For me, it was to use that platform to share my story and to give back. And ultimately, I'm full of peace. I'm full of joy."
Cejudo, a native of Phoenix, grew up in poverty as one of six children. His mother, Nelly Rico, is an immigrant from Mexico. Cejudo shot to fame by becoming the only American wrestler to win gold in the Beijing Games, though his mother couldn't go to China because of her citizenship status.
Cejudo stepped away from the sport for three years to write a book, fulfill speaking engagements and speak out on immigration issues. Though Cejudo eventually returned to the mat, he competed in only a few tournaments before entering the trials.
Cejudo survived a tough first-round match Sunday against up-and-comer Earl Hall. Cejudo then dispatched fifth-seeded Obe Blanc in two periods to set up a matchup with Simmons, who finished fifth at last year's world championships.
Cejudo rallied from losing the first period with a rousing attack in the second, but the seasoned Simmons put him away in the final two minutes.
Cejudo received a standing ovation from the close to 14,000 in attendance in Iowa City, and he thanked them by tossing his shoes their way.
"I'm not going to say goodbye to the sport of wrestling. Now, I'm done competing, but if anything I'm going to say hello. I'm going to help these guys. I'm going to help this team," Cejudo said.
Cejudo essentially ruled out a coaching career in either high school or college, adding that he's invested in real estate and other businesses and should be set financially.
Cejudo won't get to retire by flinging his shoes into a crowd that included his mother at the ExCel Centre in London this summer. But he joked that Nelly likely won't be too broken up about that.
"I think she wanted me to retire anyway. She doesn't like me wrestling," Cejudo said. "She's a sweet lady. To be honest with you, she'd rather have us preaching."
American wrestler Ellis Coleman will be taking "The Flying Squirrel" to London, and the 20-year-old is anxious to show the world there's a lot more to him than just one crazy move.
Coleman, best known for an unorthodox flip move over opponents, beat Joe Betterman in the 60-kilogram Greco-Roman division to earn a trip to the London Games.
Jake Herbert, Jared Frayer, Tervel Dlagnev, Ben Proviso and Sam Hazewinkel also claimed spots on the U.S. team.
Clarissa Chun became the first American woman to qualify for the Olympics, and Elena Pirozhkova made the team for the first time.
Coleman didn't need to break out the move -- made famous when did a standing flip over his opponent, grabbed him by the waist and tossed him to the mat at last year's Junior World Championships -- to upset the top-seeded Betterman, whose clinics he used to take part in when he was younger.
"People are like, 'Oh, you're the Flying Squirrel. You're just a kid who just hits a flip and is a YouTube sensation," Coleman said. "Now they're like, 'Oh you're the Flying Squirrel. But there's more to it than just that move.' There's a little bit more grit, a little bit more technique, a little bit more agility and just more versatile human being back there. I like to have that back it up."
Coleman, from Oak Park, Ill. just outside of Chicago, said he's used the move just over a dozen times in his short career. But when he went for a simple flip over air to celebrate his milestone win, Coleman landed on his head instead.
"I've got a bunch of better flips. I was a little tired right there," Coleman said. "You'll see a better one in London."
Coleman's breakthrough was a key highlight in a thrilling final session in Iowa City, which drew near-sellout crowds for all four sessions.
Former Iowa State star Travis Paulson moved up to from 74 to 84 kg in freestyle so he wouldn't compete with twin brother Trent, who failed to reach 74-kg final Saturday.
Paulson won the first match, but Herbert rallied with wins in the final two matches.
Herbert lost to Cael Sanderson with a trip to the world championships on the line in 2011, but he redeemed himself by beating Paulson.
"I've been hurt, I've been injured. I've been emotionally hurt. It's a great honor to be able to come through, come back and dig deep." Herbert said.
Cejudo joined Kurt Angle (1996), Rulon Gardner (2000) and Cael Sanderson (2004) as former champions who'd plotted comebacks with various levels of intensity during this Olympic cycle.
Only Cejudo competed in Iowa City.
None of them will be going to London.
Simmons suffered an agonizing upset, losing in overtime in the last period of the last match against Hazewinkel, who scored on a dramatic leg clinch.
Hazewinkel's father, David, wrestled for the U.S. in 1972 and was able to see his son's performance since the '72 team was honored in Iowa City this weekend.
"I love it. I can't put it in words right now. It is incredible. I am so happy my dad could be here to see it,"
Pirozhkova, the world silver medalist in 2010, allowed just one point in beating Adeline Gray at 63 kg.
Chun, the world champion in 2008, beat Alyssa Lampe in their final match to get back to the Olympics. Chun placed fifth in Beijing four years ago.
Frayer, 33, beat former Iowa Hawkeyes star and crowd favorite Brent Metcalf at 66 kg freestyle to advance to his first Olympics.
Provisor, 21, beat the 36-year-old Aaron Sieracki to earn the Greco-Roman nod at 74 kg. R.C. Johnson won the 96-kg Greco-Roman title, but he isn't assured a trip to London by any means because the U.S. has yet to qualify to compete in that weight class.
Should the U.S. earn a spot in the coming weeks, a secondary trials event would be held to determine the American representative.
Dlagnev, who dominated Les Sigman with two straight victories to make his first Olympic team, was born in Bulgaria and moved to the U.S. when he was four years old.
Dlagnev wrestled in high school in Texas, in college at Nebraska-Kearney and now, at 26 and based in Columbus, will be competing for the Americans at freestyle heavyweight in London.
"So far London's my favorite," Dlagnev said. "The journey has been amazing."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.