USOEC wrestler shares Olympic experience


The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing consisted of thousands of stories, from the eight gold medals of Michael Phelps to the world records broken by Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. The Olympic memories will last long after the athletes competed in their final event.

Spenser Mango, a 22-year-old United States Olympic Education Center (USOEC) greco-roman wrestler and current NMU student, competed in the games and left with a story of his own.

“It was amazing,” Mango, a physical education major, said. “With all the people, all the facilities and all the countries in one place at one time — I could have never really dreamed of what it would be like.”

First year to Olympian

Since Mango’s first year at Northern in 2004, he has earned a world university championship and has become the first USOEC greco-roman student athlete to qualify for the Olympics while attending NMU.

But even before the accomplishments, USOEC head coach Ivan Ivanov and assistant coach Jim Gruenwald said they saw Mango’s potential.

Mango was recruited in his senior year of high school after placing second at the 2004 junior nationals, finishing behind 2008 freestyle gold medalist Henry Cejudo.

In Mango’s second season at the USOEC, he started gaining attention on the national and world greco-roman wrestling scene.

“When he won his bronze medal, and won his world title – I knew Spenser was a great candidate to make an Olympic Team,” Ivanov said. “I knew he was going to do well by the time the (2008) Olympic trials came around – and I wasn’t wrong.”

In June, Mango beat 24-year-old Sam Hazewinke in two straight periods at the Olympic Trials.

Joining Mango was Ivanov in his first Olympics as an assistant coach.

Being an Olympian

Following the trials, Mango left Marquette to train with Team USA in Colorado Springs.

After arriving in Beijing on Aug. 2, Mango and a teammate walked the Olympic village in awe.

“We are walking and we’re like, ‘Wow we’re in the Olympic village,”’ Mango said. “I realized that it’s a once in lifetime opportunity.

“I’m glad I sat down and looked at it and got to enjoy it,” he added.

But not every day in Beijing was enjoyable. When he arrived, Mango said he was still 13 pounds over the weight limit. He said he almost missed the opening ceremony because he was focused on the weigh in.

“If you saw me there (during the opening ceremony) I probably looked pretty grumpy. But I’m real glad I went,” Mango said.

Mango shook hands and took photos with a variety of people including Team USA soccer, Venus and Serena Williams and George W. Bush.

But Mango said all the bright lights didn’t affect his focus.

On Aug. 12, Mango donned in Olympic red, white and blue, stepped on the mat for the first time, ready to compete. He said this was his greatest memory.

In his first match he defeated Virgil Munteanu of Romania in two straight periods. Then, in the second match, Mango fell in two periods to Park Eun-Chul of South Korea.

With Olympic wrestling, competitors have the opportunity to reenter the medal round if the person whom they lost to enters the finals.

In Mango’s case, Eun-Chul was upset by Nazyr Mankiev from Russia and Mango was eliminated.

“It sucked to be honest,” Mango said. “I was out of the Olympics and I was crushed.”

Coming home an Olympian

Mango left the stadium proud he’d competed but disappointed that it was only for two matches. His coaches and teammates encouraged him, saying he was young and that he’ll be back.

“If Spenser were to win that match-he was going for a medal,” Ivanov said. “But it was a success for him just to be at this level.”

Mango’s Olympic teammate T.C. Dantzler, a 37 year-old from Colorado, said he saw the greatness in Mango and thinks he will return.

“I’ve been in wrestling for a long time and I haven’t seen many guys, especially on a US Team, that mature so fast,” Dantzler said. “I remember watching him three years ago and I saw him mature into the patient hunter he is-where he’ll wait and pick his move and do the technique he’ll want to do. For the type of wrestler he is, you might only see that once or twice in lifetime.”

Looking back on his experience, Mango said he was on the same level as the best in the world.

“When I came off the mat, I was like, ‘I am right there with these guys. They’re not that tough,'” Mango said. “They’re not just going to go out and crush me. If I would’ve done a couple things different I would’ve won, [against Eun-chul].”

Ivanov said the mistakes Mango made were only close calls, which could have gone either way.

“The way he wrestled, and the way he handled it-psychologically and mentally-was right. I watched him, and he was so calm and was with confidence,” Ivanov said. “He had everything, but in this particular match with Korea, he had one or two small mistakes.”

With his reaming days, Mango cheered on his fellow USA wrestlers. He saw Cejudo capture the freestyle gold medal and former Northern USOEC athletes Randi Miller and Adam Wheeler bring home greco-roman bronze medals.

“You train so hard and you want it so bad, but to see your teammates win it, it’s great,” Mango said.

Mango also witnessed history as he saw Yelena Isinbayeva from Russia break a world record in pole vaulting and later, when he walked the Great Wall.

“Not many people can say they actually did that or got to see those things,” he said. “So I was just trying to enjoy being there.”

Mango returned home from the Olympics with memories to share and a desire to make his own Olympic history.

“It was an honor to be able to represent the United States in the Olympic Games,” Mango said. “I’m going to try and make another team in 2012 and hopefully I can bring home some medals.