FEATURE Past World champion Marano seeks return to the top of the podiumTwo-time World champion Kristie Marano (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) wasn't always a fan of wrestling. In fact, when she was younger, she refused to compete when her father encouraged her to participate in wrestling tournaments. Although her father and brothers were involved in the sport, Marano would have none of it.
"I refused to wrestle," Marano said. "My dad always wanted me to wrestle. He tried to put me in youth tournaments."
Before she began her wrestling career, Marano was an accomplished judo athlete in high school, becoming the national judo champion in 1995 and placing third in the 1999 Junior World Championships. Her father eventually convinced her to become involved in wrestling her junior year to improve her skills at judo.
"Basically my dad thought it would be a good cross training for my judo," said Marano.
She didn't concentrate on wrestling full-time until she was a senior at Colonie Central High School in Albany, N.Y. A knee injury forced her to wear a brace, ultimately preventing her from participating in judo, but still allowing her to wrestle.
In high school, Marano was one of the few girls to wrestle on the varsity men's wrestling team. However, Marano was known for her athletic prowess in judo as well as for her family's involvement in wrestling. Her brothers Matt and Joshua were also involved in the youth wrestling program and her father was a well known coach.
When Marano finally decided to take up wrestling, her male teammates were well aware of what she was capable of.
"The people we grew up with knew of my judo background," said Marano.
When Marano entered the international world of wrestling, she quickly made her mark. While still in high school, in her first year on the national women's circuit, Marano became No. 1 in the nation at 165 pounds. She went on to win a World silver medal for the United States.
Not only is Marano a seven-time U.S. Nationals champion and a seven-time World medalist, but also a two-time World champion. She enters the 2006 year as the No. 2 athlete in the nation for the past two years. Her last time competing at the World level came in 2003 when she won a World gold in her home state at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Recently, Marano competed in and won the 2006 Dave Schultz Memorial International at 67 kg/147.5 lbs., after pinning Megan Buydens of Canada in the finals.
"I felt pretty good," Marano said. "I was excited because last year I had a lot of injuries. Last year I didn't feel good, but I felt really good in this tournament."
In the semifinals, Buydens defeated No. 1 Katie Downing (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids). Previously, Marano and Downing competed against each other in several matches, with Marano as the winner for several years. However, at the 2005 World Team Trials, Downing managed to not only pin Marano in the first bout, but win the other bout, a 4-0 1-0 score, to make the World Team. Downing went on to win a bronze medal at the World Championships. Downing beat Marano again at the 2005 New York AC Holiday Championship.
With her recent victory over Buydens, Marano is now looking towards the World Championships and 2008 Olympics.
"I think she's coming in with the attitude that I have something to prove again," said National Women's Coach Terry Steiner. "She's good in the underdog role."
Steiner adds that her biggest challenge will be to make the World Team, after she decides what weight class she will be wrestling in. Marano's busy schedule is another consideration to take into account.
"She's very accomplished and she's got a lot going on in her life. She has a lot on her plate right now," said Steiner. "For her to do this, you know she's serious. She's only doing it for one reason-World and Olympic titles."
Currently, Marano is training for tournaments in the upcoming wrestling season and overseas competitions in Turkey and Sweden.
"I'm just concentrating on wrestling competition and getting back to making the World Team again," said Marano. "Right now I'm concentrating on tournaments that get me there, like the U.S. Nationals."
While training full time for the women's upcoming competitions, Marano lives in Colorado Springs, Colo. with her brother Matt and 7-year-old daughter Kayla. Often Kayla attends her mom's wrestling practices in the evening, occupying herself by rolling around on the mats and learning the moves.
"She says she wants to wrestle. We'll see if she follows through," Marano said.
Looking to the future, Marano aims to wrestle until the 2008 Olympics and then find something that she enjoys outside of the world of wrestling. However, she hopes to stay connected to the sport through coaching. She is also currently attending Pikes Peak Community College two days a week to obtain a degree.
"I would want to wrestle a little longer, depending on how the Olympics go. But there's a lot I want to do with Kayla, including if she wants to do sports," said Marano.
Given her previous success at the World level, Marano has the potential to bring home more international titles, and maybe even her first Olympic medal in 2008. But, the first step will be to return to the No. 1 spot in the nation, and earn another trip to the World stage.