NEW YORK - In the week leading up to “Beat the Streets” wrestling match between the U.S. wrestling team and the World All-Stars on Wednesday in Times Square, all of the U.S. wrestlers knew their opponents.
Except for Randi Miller.
It was until Tuesday night that Miller learned of her opponent for the U.S vs. the World event: 2013 world champion Alina Makhinya of Ukraine.
“It’s not everyday I get to wrestle the world champ, so it’s pretty awesome getting the chance to wrestle someone of her caliber,” Miller, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist for Team USA, said. “But since I’ve known I was going to compete in the event for the last month, it didn’t really matter who I wrestled. My style doesn’t really change for any opponent. I’ve just got to focus on the things I want to do on the mat.”
Makhinya grabbed the momentum early, taking Miller down within the first 30 seconds. But after Miller ended the first of two three-minute periods down 4-3, she was able to take control. In the second period, the Arlington, Texas, native had four straight takedowns in an eventual 11-5 win.
“I wanted to see where I stood with the current champ,” Miller said. “But she’s still the champ, because winning here is fun, but you’ve got to win where it counts, so I’m going to take what I learned today wrestling a great opponent.
“I like that I was pushing the pace. I would like to have more arsenal, but that’s something to go home and work on. I’m happy with the pressure I was able to keep and the pace and the intensity.”
Miller was one of eight U.S. wrestlers who won their matches against the World All-Stars. Team USA finished 8-3 in the event, which marked the fifth consecutive year in which a major international-style wrestling competition was held in New York City.
Miller, who took five years off from wrestling before returning to competition this season, is trying to get back to the intensity level she showed during the Beijing Games. The 30-year-old said Wednesday she retired because she had some personal things to do, but after watching the London Games in 2012, she decided she had one more Olympic cycle left in her.
Since her return, she’s only wrestled in a handful of competitions. She said that Wednesday night’s match showed that while she’s on track, she’s not quite where she wants to be yet.
“I was an animal back then — I’m getting back to that level, not there yet though,” Miller said. “But I missed everything, all the good, all the bad — it just comes with retiring before you’re ready.
“I had some good success, but my goal was never third place. My goal was a gold medal, so that kept me up most nights.”
Upon retiring from wrestling, Miller entered into mixed martial arts. She fought one match in 2010, which she won. But she said even though she enjoyed it, she missed wrestling too much.
After deciding to return to wrestling, she has been training in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with the Army wrestling team, as she is also a sergeant and a water treatment specialist in the Army.
“Now that I’m wrestling full-time, I really don’t have time to train for anything else,” Miller said. “With the Army, I have a room full of smaller guys to train with and a room full of girls to train with so I get the best of both worlds.”
After her big win over Makhinya on Wednesday, Miller is now looking to keep her momentum going at the U.S. World Team Trials May 31-June 1 in Madison, Wisconsin, which will determine men’s and women’s freestyle athletes who will compete at the 2014 World Wrestling Championship in September in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, as well as the U.S. national teams for the 2014-15 campaign in men's freestyle and women's freestyle.
But the ultimate goal, she said, is completing her journey by winning gold at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
“I’m always thinking about 2016,” she said. “But first things first, and you can’t overlook anything — but that’s the dream.”