The USOEC mission states that it will provide athletes with the “world-class facilities and support services that [they] need in order to become Olympians”; that became a reality for the 2012 Olympic summer.
Six prior USOEC athletes earned a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team: Greco-Roman wrestlers Spencer Mango, Ellis Coleman, Justin Lester, Ben Provisor and Chas Betts, along with weightlifter Sarah Robles.
The one other thing these athletes have in common in addition to the Olympic experience is their appreciation for their start at the USOEC.
Betts said since the 2012 trials for the Olympic spots, there’s not even an argument that the program is doing its job.
“For Greco at least, you get these guys right out of high school and get them training internationally right away instead of doing NCAA wrestling after high school first,” Betts said. “The reason why the Olympians this year were from the USOEC is because we were the first crop of athletes to come through the program, most of us right out of high school.”
Robles also agrees that for her sport, the USOEC is vital to becoming stronger on the international field. She was worried when the weightlilfting program at the USOEC was in danger of closing.
“It would be such a detriment to USA Weightlifting because we keep losing athletes to other sports because we don’t have more college programs and funding like we do at the USOEC,” Robles said. “We lose kids that could be on the next Olympic Weightlifting team to sports like football or track and field because that will pay for their college education.”
Mango credits a huge part of his success to him being at the USOEC.
“It’s a very unique place where you can focus and buckle down on academics, your sport, and be successful in both areas,” Mango said. “You want to put your faith in a system that is proven to be successful; we need to keep supporting the USOEC so we can get exposure to kids younger and train them to become Olympians.”
USA Wrestling held its Olympic Team Trials at historic wrestling venue Carver-Hawkeye Arena at University of Iowa in April 2012. The trials had record breaking numbers in attendance with a morning session of almost 14,000 and a two-day record of just under 55,000 in the crowd.
Of the seven Greco weight classes, six of the trial champions were past USOEC team members.
USA Greco-Roman head coach Steve Frasier, 1984 Olympic champion and All-American wrestler from Hazel Park, Mich., wasn’t surprised that so many of the Olympic team had roots at NMU.
“The USOEC program is geared for producing future champions in Greco,” Frasier said. “We’ve been very happy with the skill level of the guys that come out of that program.”
One such champion is Spencer Mango of the U.S. Army, 2010 NMU graduate, at 55 kg. Mango, a 2008 Olympian, was excited for the new challenges that he faced in London.
“It was an amazing experience with some tough competition,” Mango said. “That kind of competition is great to learn and build from.”
Mango placed ninth at the Olympics with one win and two losses. Frasier is sure that with some work on his positioning that Mango will have his medal in no time.
“Spencer has been on five world teams and is our number one guy at world competition,” Frasier said. “He’s a very talented kid and with a little more work we are confident he will be able to score on anyone in the world.”
Next on the 2012 Olympic roster is Ellis Coleman at 60 kg from Oak Park, Ill.
Even though he only spent a short time at the USOEC, it was still enough time to get the national team coaching staff’s attention and recruit him to the Olympic Training Center.
“Ellis is very talented, dedicated, and hungry for victory,” Frasier said. “He is a coachable athlete and has wonderful potential to be a great Greco-Roman wrestler.”
Coleman is most famous for his Flying Squirrel throw at the 2011 Pan American Championships that went viral on the internet.
Though it caught a lot of attention to the sport, Frasier said he isn’t surprised that he didn’t see the throw at the Olympics.
“You don’t practice that move, it’s more of a last minute ‘you are down and need some big points’ move,” Frasier said. “Everyone knew that was his move so it would have been dangerous to do it with everyone expecting it at London.”
The next Olympic team spot went to 66 kg wrestler Justin Lester of the U.S. Army, who graduated NMU in 2007 with a degree in history.
Lester went into the London Games having already been a two-time world medalist for the United States on the international wrestling circuit.
With a win against Japan and two losses each against Germany and Hungary, Lester had an eighth place finish at London.
Frasier said Lester has already proven that he can be a great champion and with his skill and competitiveness sees a promising future for Lester.
Ben Provisor from Stevens Point, Wis., won the Olympic spot at 74 kg and had one win against Cuba and a loss against Georgia in London.
Frasier is confident in the growth that Proviser has shown from his very beginnings at the USOEC.
“He is young with great potential and good talent,” Frasier said. “As long as he remains coachable he will be able to improve and become one of the best in his weight class.”
At the 84 kg Olympic spot is Charles “Chas” Betts from St. Michael, Minn., and a 2010 graduate of NMU with a bachelor’s in electronic imaging.
Betts said it was a long road spending so much time away from family and friends for him to now finally realize his Olympic dream.
“You normally hear stories about athletes who had others telling them they couldn’t do it,” Betts said. “I always had 100 percent support; it was so hard missing all of those people who unconditionally loved and supported me through all of this.”
He said the feeling when he realized he wasn’t coming home empty handed,that it wasn’t all for nothing, was hard to put into words.
“It felt great to make all of my family and friends happy,” Betts said. “And having them over in London to support me was amazing on top of the Olympic experience.”
Betts said being in the Olympics was something great, to be a part of something bigger than all of us was pretty special.
Of the two weightlifters that competed for the United States this summer, one of them was 2008-2009 USOEC team member Sarah Robles at 75 kg.
Once in London, Robles was set to compete against the best lifters the world had to offer.
Even though she was across an ocean and in a different time zone, for the most part, the Olympic atmosphere didn’t distract her.
“The only difference was the amount of people in the stands, there were so many people there to support weightlifting,” Robles said. “I fed off it. I enjoy being on stage and performing; it was everything I could have wanted it to be.”
She cleared two of her three attempts in the snatch lifting a personal record at 120 kg.
Robles said that getting a PR at the Olympics was exciting and now she is much closer to the American record of 128 kg.
In the next event, the clean and jerk, Robles missed her first two attempts at 144 and 145 kg.
Pulling it together, she cleared 145 kg for her final attempt totaling up 265 kg and earning a seventh place overall finish, only two kg’s below sixth place.