MISSISSAUGA, Ontario -- Whitney Conder beamed with joy as she grasped gold in the women’s 53 kg. freestyle wrestling at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games on Thursday.
The win marks Conder’s first international gold medal.
Conder defeated Mexico’s Alma Valencia, 3-2, in a rugged final at the Hershey Centre. She was one of three U.S. medalists on Thursday – joining Alyssa Lampe (48 kg.) and Robby Smith (Greco-Roman 130 kg.), who both won bronze to bring the Americans’ medal tally to seven in eight contested weight classes so far.
“It feels amazing to go out there and win and come back with a gold for the U.S.,” she said. “I’m just so grateful that I can be able to be out here and wrestle and do what I love.”
Conder, a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, hopes that this win catapults a strong run at the upcoming world championships this September in Las Vegas. And U.S. women’s Terry Steiner knows the 53 kg. weight class is one rich with Olympic talent.
“It’s a tough weight, no doubt,” he said. “But having the worlds here (in the U.S.), I think are really going to benefit her. Whitney wrestles so much on emotion.”
Smith and Lampe are also headed to United World Wrestling’s premier event.
Smith was credited the victory via forfeit by Venezuela’s Moises Perez, whom he shared the podium with for the bronze medal. The 6-foot, 268-pound Smith fell 8-0 in his semifinal to the titanic Mijain Lopez of Cuba – a possible foe in Las Vegas – who would go on to win gold.
“I don’t want to end on a loss, but I did today,” Smith said. “I wish I could’ve got out there and put on a show for this crowd and give a great representation of Greco-Roman wrestling.”
Smith’s bronze did, however, help Team USA top the tournament’s Greco-Roman medal count with five.
Lampe, meanwhile, cruised to a 12-2 technical fall over Yusneylis Guzman of Cuba, rebounding from a 12-8 defeat earlier in the afternoon to eventual gold medalist Genevieve Morrison of Canada.
“I hate losing, so it’s just another pick me up that I have to work harder,” Lampe said. “I have to keep doing the same things and bump it up even more to come out on top at worlds.”
All three of Thursday medalists are resident athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Smith is the longest tenured at over 10 years after recently surpassing speedskater Apolo Ohno. He speaks passionately of the home he’s found tucked among the Rockies.
“It’s my life. That’s my home,” Smith said. “That’s where I live. It’s been a great place. I’m still holding on strong. It’s nice. It’s a good living. As long as I keep doing what I do and competing at the highest level, I can stay there as long as I want.”