Two Missouri wrestlers qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Indianapolis.
For one, it’s the end of a career; for the other, it’s the beginning of an era.
Redshirt freshman Ben Askren and Scott Schatzman, the director of wrestling operations, finished in the top eight in freestyle at the U.S. Nationals in Las Vegas on April 10. Askren (185) defeated Nate Patrick of the New York Athletic Club 3-2 to finish seventh. Schatzman (133) fell 3-0 to Iowa State’s Zach Roberson.
The three-day Olympic Trial tournament begins May 21 at the RCA Dome. The winner of each weight class moves on to the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Schatzman, 27, said his first Olympic run is also his last. As he gets older, it becomes harder to handle the conditioning needed to compete.
“I can only get on the mat so often because my body can only handle so much,” Schatzman said. “It’s just kind of effectively doing cardio for a few hours or an hour, getting on the mat for an hour and lifting.”
During his collegiate career at Northwestern, Schatzman was a three-time All-American. His success came with a price. He had three shoulder surgeries and has three pins in each. Schatzman said this is the first year since college he is strong enough to compete at the Olympic level.
To add to his workload, Schatzman just finished law school finals and is working on a 60-page paper due at the end of the week. To get everything done, he said he studies the way he wrestles. He will do a paper outline in his office at Hearnes Center and then go workout for 1 ½ hours.
“You can do it all if you don’t play around,” Schatzman said.
Even though Schatzman’s schedule is hectic, he makes time to have a social life and enjoys going out.
“I have a very difficult time going from studying and working out all day to just, ‘Oh, it’s time to go to sleep.’” Schatzman said. “It’s kinda like you need a little down time.”
Schatzman is confident he can qualify for the Olympics. He said he is bigger and stronger, and his technique is where it needs to be.
“If I have three good days I don’t even need three great days, I see myself winning the tournament,” Schatzman said. “It’s going to be hard to beat me when the time comes.”
Askren, wrestling at 174, had an incredible freshman season for Missouri. He placed second at the 2004 NCAA Championships in St. Louis and finished 32-5. Askren’s season boosted his confidence in his ability to qualify. His increase in weight class from the collegiate season allowed him to bulk up. It also allows him to eat regularly and keep his strength up.
“I’m a few pounds over 185 right now so it’s a pretty good weight class for me,” Askren said.
Askren said he feels winning a medal at the Olympics is the highest honor a wrestler can receive. He, like Schatzman, increased his workouts to prepare for the competition.
“I’ve just been being a little more intense, conditioning a little more and wrestling a little extra, too,” Askren said.
Missouri coach Brian Smith said being young hurts Askren because his body hasn’t matured as much as his opponents.
Smith said Askren’s strength is in his head.
“Mentally, he is the most focused athlete I think I’ve ever coached,” Smith said.
These attributes are some of the many reasons why Smith said he feels Askren, a Wisconsin native, is the future of the Missouri program and the future of American wrestling.
“There’s some quality people (at the Olympic Trials) that he’s going to have to upset at this point but I think a few years down the road you won’t be calling them upsets,” Smith said.