Sarah Hildebrandt competes against Evin Demirhan of Team Turkey during the Women's Freestyle 50kg 1/8 Final at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 06, 2021 in Chiba, Japan.
It was 4 a.m. in Tokyo, and Sarah Hildebrandt couldn't sleep.
A first-time Olympian, she was wrestling for the bronze medal in the women’s 50 kg. category later that day, but it wasn’t nerves keeping her awake.
It was the fallout from the night before, when she led her semifinal match 7-0 only to lose in the final seconds. She’d come heartbreakingly close to the chance to wrestle for gold, and nothing could settle her enough to rest.
So she decided to go for a run.
“I was like, OK, you just have to say good morning to everyone you see,” said Hildebrandt, 28, from Granger, Indiana. “They don’t know what happened to you last night. You just need to switch your perspective. Say good morning to everyone you pass because this could be a perfectly normal day to them, so try to buy into that. I hadn’t slept at all, I’d cried all night, my eyes were beet red and I was just running down the street in Tokyo saying, ‘Good morning! Good morning!’ People probably thought I was insane. But it served its purpose.”
Refocused, Hildebrandt went on to win the bronze medal, dominating Oksana Livach of Ukraine, 12-1.
The Olympic experience taught her about resiliency, but it wasn’t just that 48-hour span in Tokyo. It was the whole year-plus leading up to those two days, after the Games were postponed and everyone had to readjust not just physically but also mentally and emotionally.
Now, her resiliency will be tested once again when she takes the mat at the World Wrestling Championships in Oslo, Norway, beginning on Saturday. The U.S. is going into the meet with eight of its nine Olympic medalists, previous Olympic and world team members and some talented newcomers.
But for the first time ever, because of the postponement, the competition also falls just two months after the Olympic Games.