By Brandon Penny | April 09, 2016, 1:56 p.m. (ET)
Spenser Mango poses for a portrait during the 2012 Team USA Media Summit on May 15, 2012 in Dallas.


IOWA CITY, Iowa – Spenser Mango went into the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling expecting to qualify for his third Olympic team; he left the tournament retired.

After a semifinal loss to Jesse Thielke in the Greco-Roman 59 kg. division Saturday afternoon, Mango placed his shoes on the mat to signal his retirement. Mango had a bye in the first round, then won 8-0 over Sammy Jones in the quarterfinal and was was two wins away from winning his third Olympic Trials but lost to Thielke, 8-0, keeping him out of Saturday night’s championship bout.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Mango said, in tears. “Trying to hold it together, but when I lost the way I did and all the hard work that goes into this – I just don’t feel like I showcased it today.”

The 29-year-old had every intention of winning in Iowa City, flying to Mongolia next week to qualify his weight class for the U.S. to compete at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, then competing in Rio in August and retiring after that.

“I knew this was going to be my last year,” he said. “I didn’t think this was going to be my last day. I was expecting to get on a plane to Mongolia next week, so this hurts.”

Mango began wrestling Greco-Roman in 2004 when he was recruited to Northern Michigan University.

“That’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” he said of switching to Greco-Roman. “The last 12 years I’ve been having a blast doing what I love. Lil Wayne used to say, ‘It’s not about what you walk away from it’s about what you walk away with.’”

Since then, Mango qualified for two Olympic teams, finishing eighth in 2008 and ninth in 2012, and six world championships teams (2009-15), finishing as high as fifth in 2013 and ’14.

A member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), Mango counts the people he’s met throughout the past dozen years, especially his Army teammates, as the highlight of his career.

“At these tournaments, you get medals, and I put them away and never really look at them,” Mango said. “The bonds that I make – especially my Army teammates, I spend more time with them than I do my actual family. They are my family, and it’s something I’ll always cherish.”

Post-retirement, Mango will remain with the WCAP program and transition from athlete to coach.