World bronze medalist Tatiana Padilla ready to make big splash at World Championships
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - You won't find many wrestlers more competitive than Tatiana Padilla.
"I hate losing at anything," she said. "It doesn't matter if it's a soccer game, a video game or a wrestling match. Whenever the team goes for a run, I want to beat everybody. I'm just a very competitive person."
How competitive is Padilla?
Last fall, she won a bronze medal at the World Championships as a 17-year-old.
Most kids that age would've been ecstatic. Not Padilla. She was still frustrated about her semifinal loss to Ukraine's Tetyana Lazareva.
"I felt like I should have been in the finals of the Worlds," Padilla said. "I knew I could've beaten her. There is nothing worse than feeling like you didn't do everything you could do to win a match. I wasn't mentally in the match the way I should've been and I didn't move my feet as much as I normally do."
Padilla will receive a chance to improve on that bronze-medal performance when she competes at the 2009 World Championships. She is scheduled to wrestle in the women's freestyle competition at 55 kg/121 lbs. on Sept. 24 in Herning, Denmark.
"Tatiana expects a lot from herself and we expect a lot from Tatiana," U.S. National Coach Terry Steiner said. "She's a very competitive person and she has a very good work ethic. She hates to lose - it really bothers her. She's still very young, but she's already been in a lot of big matches. Wrestling on a big stage like the World Championships doesn't bother Tatiana too much."
In the 2008 Worlds, Padilla rebounded from the semifinal loss to Lazareva to win a bronze medal. She lost the first period before coming back to pin Ana Maria Paval of Romania in their match for third place.
Paval had placed fifth at the 2008 Olympics.
"I got hurt in my semifinal match at the Worlds - I hurt my knee," Padilla said. "I could barely walk. I didn't know how I would pull it off in my next match. I just had to figure out a way to win. I didn't care how I did it. I just knew I had to give it everything I had and wrestle as hard as I could. I was very determined to come back and win a medal. Now I want another one."
Padilla is in a loaded weight class that includes arguably the best women's wrestler on the planet - two-time Olympic gold medalist and six-time World champion Saori Yoshida of Japan. Also in that class is past World champion Anna Gomis of France, Olympic silver medalist Tonya Verbeek of Canada and World silver medalist Natalia Golts of Russia.
Yoshida had won 119 straight matches at the Senior level before falling to American Marcie Van Dusen in the 2008 World Cup. Yoshida bounced back to win the Olympics and Worlds last year.
"I think Yoshida's a good wrestler, but I don't think she's unbeatable," Padilla said. "On any given day, anybody can be beaten. Marcie beat her, and I am going to go out there and try to beat her. I'm not going to back down from anybody."
Padilla, a California native, started wrestling when she was just 3 years old. She credits her high school coach and mentor, David Ochoa, for much of her success.
"Coach Ochoa really pushed me and helped me develop," Padilla said. "He taught me a lot."
Padilla medaled twice at the Junior World Championships, winning a silver medal in 2007 and a bronze medal in 2008.
Padilla gained experience wrestling collegiately for Lindenwood (Mo.) last season under Coach Jake Dieffenbach. She is now a resident-athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
Padilla had a front-row seat at the 2008 Worlds in Tokyo, Japan, when U.S. teammate Clarissa Chun won a World title. Chun is back on the World Team again this year at 48 kg/105.5 lbs.
"Seeing Clarissa win a World title, it just drives me to work harder to win a gold medal like she did," Padilla said. "That was very inspiring. I saw how mentally and physically prepared she was. She's a great leader and I've learned a lot from Clarissa."
Padilla, who competes for the Sunkist Kids, said she thinks the U.S. team can do well at the 2009 World Championships
The team also includes Jessica Medina at 51 kg/112.25 lbs., Deanna Rix at 59 kg/130 lbs., Elena Pirozhkova at 63 kg/138.75 lbs., Adeline Gray at 67 kg/147.5 lbs. and Ali Bernard at 72 kg/158.5 lbs.
Rix placed fifth in the World and Bernard was fifth in the Olympics last year. Pirozhkova won a World University title and Gray is a Junior World champion. Medina is another top young wrestler.
"This is a newer generation, but the girls on this team are very tough," Padilla said. "We have the drive and the ambition to be the best. We know we can wrestle with anybody in the World."
The U.S. will make its final preparations for the Worlds over the next two weeks.
"I'm excited, and a little anxious, to get over to Denmark," Padilla said. "We've worked hard and our coaches have done a great job preparing us. I feel pretty confident. I will be ready to go."