The wrestling world is aflutter -- if such a word can be used to describe wrestlers -- with Jake Deitchler's upset win in the Greco-Roman 66-kilogram class at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Las Vegas on June 14. Deitchler is 18 and just graduated from Anoka High School in Minnesota. He defeated two-time World bronze medalist Harry Lester, 24, in the semis, then won an Olympic berth by defeating former Turkish champion Faruk Sahin in two matches. (Sahin gained U.S. citizenship in 2004.)
"That second match, I'm saying, ‘Hey, it's going to be a life-long dream here in about six minutes,'" Deitchler said about his bout with Sahin.
A dream indeed. But it's hard not to feel sorry for Lester, the top-ranked wrestler in the U.S. in the 66kg weight class What about his dream? He finished sixth at 2004 Olympic Trials, then quickly climbed up wrestling's food chain, earning bronze medals at the 2006 and 20067 World Championships. Before 2008 Olympic Trials, USA Wrestling described Lester as "one of the most talented Greco-Roman wrestlers in the world in any weight class"; and the heavy favorite to win not only a spot on the U.S. Olympic team but also a medal in Beijing.
Now Lester is done. After winning the match for third place at Trials, he left his shoes on the mat - the traditional way of indicating that he is retiring from compe****ion.
While my heart goes out to Lester, another part of me is cheering for Deitchler. The teenager will be the youngest U.S. wrestler to head to an Olympics since Mike Farina qualified for the 1976 Games. Farina finished tied for eighth in the discontinued 48kg weight class at the Montreal Olympics, and like him, Deitchler has only an outside chance at a medal. At the Junior World Championships in Beijing last August, he didn't make it beyond his first match.
Despite Deitchler's chances - or rather because of them - I love stories like this. They are what make the Olympics so riveting. A guy who hasn't even made the national team makes the leap to the Olympics. It sparks the dream in all of us - that any of us can get our dream job, or win the lottery, or (pardon my eye roll) make it onto American Idol. Or qualify for the Olympics while our friends are at senior prom.
We cheer for the underdog because that's what most of us are.
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This blog was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.