Clarissa Chun with the other Olympic medalists at 48 kilos (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)
LONDON -- It took four days, but on Wednesday the U.S. claimed its first wrestling medal of the 2012 Olympic Games in London when Clarissa Chun earned a bronze medal in women's freestyle at 48 kilos.
Ironically, Chun, a 30-year-old Hawaiian, defeated the same wrestler who defeated her four years ago for the Olympic bronze medal in Beijing, Irini Merleni of Ukraine, an Olympic champion and three-time World champion.
"She's a beast," Chun said of Merleni. "She tries to intimidate a lot of people. This time I was just not going to fall for it. I was like, 'I want this more than her.'"
Clarissa Chun shows off her Olympic bronze medal (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)U.S. women's freestyle coach Terry Steiner said Chun has gone through ups and down of late.
"Clarissa deserved it," said Steiner. "She needed it. She was in this same match four years ago. She went through a lot of turmoil the last month. I'm just happy for her that she could keep it together and get refocused and get her job done. She's the talent."
After her victory over Merleni, Chun raced around the ExCel Center with the American flag draped around her body wearing a smile that stretched from ear to ear. It was a scene that looked more like a gold medalist celebrating than a bronze medalist whose dream was crushed earlier in the day.
"Gold is what I strive for," said Chun. "I'm happy with the bronze. I cannot cry about getting third. For me it was [about] finishing strong."
Chun was a World champion in 2008, but holds this Olympic bronze medal in higher regard than her World gold medal.
"This is bigger," said Chun. "This is the Olympics. The cream of the crop is here. All my family and friends are here, coming from Hawaii. Long travel. Just years of work put in. I love it."
Chun opened with a victory over China's Shasha Zhou (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)Chun opened Wednesday morning with a two-period victory over China's Shasha Zhou, 5-0, 1-0. She used a one-point takedown and two two-point gut wrenches to win the first period. The second period went to the ball draw after a scoreless two minutes. Chun won the ball draw, starting with Zhou's leg, and quickly finished for a takedown and the victory.
Chun then faced 2011 World champion Mariya Stadnyk of Azerbaijan, and fell in two periods, 3-0, 2-0. Chun was pulled back into the tournament when Stadnyk reached the gold-medal match, beating Merleni in the semifinals.
Chun was paired with Poland's Iwona Matkowska in the repechage, with the winner earning a spot in the bronze-medal match. Matkowska took the first period 1-0, winning the ball draw and using the advantageous position to score a takedown and win the period. Chun got on the board early in the second period, scoring a point off a pushout 14 seconds into the period. A short time later Chun used a front headlock roll to put Matkowska on her back and record the fall.
Chun carried that momentum into her bronze-medal match with Merleni. She controlled the action from the opening whistle, winning the first period by scoring with a drag in the closing seconds, and then won the second period 4-0, scoring with a takedown and three-point throw.
With one day of women's freestyle competition left, the U.S. women have already matched the medal output from 2008 at the Beijing Olympics when Randi Miller was the lone medalist, earning a bronze medal at 63 kilos.
"In 2008 when Randi got it I was like living her dream," said Chun. "I was like, 'Oh my god. That's so awesome.' Now I get my own."
Elena Pirozhkova battles Anastasija Grigorjeva of Latvia (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)Elena Pirozhkova, a 2010 World silver medalist, was the other U.S. women's freestyle wrestler to compete on Wednesday. She dropped her opening match to Anastasija Grigorjeva of Latvia, 2-0, 0-5, 0-2.
Pirozhkova used two takedowns to win the first period 2-0. But the tide quickly turned in the second period as the Latvia wrestler picked up her pace and overwhelmed Pirozhkova, scoring with a pushout and four one-point takedowns. Grigorjeva scored with two pushouts to win the deciding period 2-0.
"It was just a really high-paced match," said Pirozhkova. "After the first period I don't think I was ready for the second period after I came back from the 30-second break."
Pirozhkova attributed her loss to conditioning problem.
"I felt great coming in, but there's a lot more conditioning I have to work on, at least like mat conditioning, mat sprints," Pirozhkova said. "It definitely showed during this match."
U.S. women's freestyle assistant coach Vladislav "Izzy" Izoboinikov said it was a matter of Pirozhkova not being able to match the Latvia wrestler's pace.
"Our strategy going into the match was correct," said Izzy. "We watched plenty of films. We knew everything about the girl. But it's hard to match the pace of the match. We didn't find a way to slow her down. We couldn't raise our level up. That's something we just need to address in the future, and something that was addressed in the past, but not fixed."
Ali Bernard will face Sweden's Jenny Fransson at 72 kilos (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)The women's freestyle competition will wrap up in London on Thursday as the U.S. will send out Kelsey Campbell (55 kilos) and Ali Bernard (72 kilos). Both received difficult draws.
Campbell will open with two-time Olympic champion and nine-time World champion Saori Yoshida of Japan. Bernard will face Sweden's Jenny Fransson, who was fifth in the 2010 World Championships. If Bernard gets past Fransson, she will face the winner of a match between match between five-time World champion Stanka Zlateeva of Bulgaria and 2011 World bronze medalist Vasalisa Marzalyuk of Belarus.
Chun said it's important for her teammates competing on Thursday not to get too stressed or caught up in the moment of competing on the highest stage.
"For Kelsey and Ali, I just want them to have fun out there, like focused and fun" said Chun. "I wish them all the best."
The final day of women's freestyle competition gets underway on Thursday at 1 p.m. local time in London, 8 a.m. ET at the ExCel Center.
Japanese legends Sakamoto Obara, Icho win gold
Japenese wrestling legends Hitomi Sakamoto Obara (48 kilos) and Kaori Icho (63 kilos) won gold medals on Wednesday night. For Icho, it was her third Olympic gold medal.
Day 4 Olympic Wrestling Placewinners (Women's Freestyle)
Gold: Hitomi Sakamoto Obara (Japan)
Silver: Maria Stadnyk (Azerbaijan)
Bronze: Clarissa Chun (USA)
Bronze: Carol Huynh (Canada)
5th: Isabelle Sambou (Senegal)
5th: Irini Merleni (Ukraine)
7th: Iwona Matkowska (Poland)
8th: Vanesa Kaladzinskaya (Belarus)
9th: Otgontsetseg Davaasukh (Mongolia)
10th: Mayelis Caripa Castillo (Venezuela)
Gold: Kaori Icho (Japan)
Silver: Rui Xue Jing (China)
Bronze: Nasanburmaa Ochirbat (Mongolia)
Bronze: Lyubov Volossova (Russia)
5th: Martine Dugrenier (Canada)
5th: Monika Michalik (Poland)
7th: Yulia Ostapchuk (Ukraine)
8th: Katherine Vidiaux Lopez (Cuba)
9th: Anastasija Grigorjeva (Latvia)
10th: Hanna Johansson (Sweden)