BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Emily Shilson felt the pressure. She knew for the past few months that she would be the one with the biggest target on her back come the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018.
She had won the cadet world title in July and was clearly the top wrestler in that age group.
With the pressure on and the stakes at their highest, Shilson didn’t flinch.
“I knew that people were going to be gunning for me, and I had to make sure everything was really crisp and smooth and I was on my game,” she said.
And that she did.
Shilson sailed through to the women’s 43 kg. wrestling gold-medal match as if with ease and then faced 2017 cadet world bronze medalist Simran Simran of India, who she defeated 11-6 to capture the title.
All the pressure off and a historic gold medal to her name, Shilson ran across the mat with the American flag proudly flying in her hands.
The medal marked the first gold for Team USA of the 2018 Youth Olympic Games and the first for a U.S. wrestler at any Youth Olympic Games. American wrestlers previously earned four silvers and a bronze at the past two Games.
“It’s really cool to represent wrestling and the U.S.,” Shilson said of her monumental achievement. “It’s really cool because this is a huge event and there’s so many different countries and athletes and different sports, and it’s just been a great experience, so it’s amazing to finish on top today.”
The key to her success was staying in the moment and keeping her mind on each challenge as it came.
Shilson kept her composure the entire day, winning all four of her group matches and emerging on top of Group A.
“I knew to take it one match at a time, even one period or position at a time, and keep my mind on what I’m doing at that moment,” Shilson explained. “If I start thinking about a match later or finals, then it’s going to get away from me. I just had to focus.”
The wins included a 5-0 decision over European cadet world bronze medalist Justine Fanny Vigouroux, followed by a 10-0 technical fall over Brazil’s Heloisa Elena Martinez, 12-1 technical fall over cadet world silver medalist Shahana Nazarova of Azerbaijan and a 2-0 pin of Youth African Games champion Christianah Tolulope Ogunsanya.
When it came time for the evening’s gold-medal match, Shilson had the confidence of knowing she scored a 10-0 technical fall over Simran at the cadet world quarterfinals earlier this year. On Saturday, Shilson was out to a quick 9-2 lead in the first period, then finished the job in the second, 11-6.
“I started out pretty well and then I got kind of sloppy in the end, but I know that people are gunning for me now and it just shows me that I have a lot of work to do and I just want to keep being better,” Shilson said.
The next stop for the Minnesota native is Japan, a women’s wrestling mecca, where she will work on that goal.
“I’m going to Japan in a couple weeks for a tournament there and it’s a great training camp because Japan is the best women’s team in the world right now,” she said.
For now, she can enjoy the rest of the Youth Olympic Games as a gold medalist and knowing this experience has opened her eyes and furthered her career.
“It was different than any past tournaments, just the whole experience of being in the Youth Olympic Village and meeting other athletes from different countries.”