Women’s Feature – Patricia Miranda, first Olympic medalist

March 05, 2015, 6:20 a.m. (ET)
PATRICIA MIRANDA
First U.S. women’s wrestler to receive an Olympic medal


Patricia Miranda started wrestling growing up in California and was a member of the boys team at Saratoga High School. While still in high school, she was already successful in USA Wrestling women’s competition. Her career blossomed as a student at Stanford University, where she competed on the men’s wrestling team. Not only did Miranda train with the guys on the team, but she earned a spot on the varsity, competing regularly at 125 pounds in her senior year.

At the same time, she was climbing the ladder of success in USA Wrestling’s women’s program. Her breakthrough year was in 2000, when she won the U.S. Open and the World Team Trials at 51 kg/112.25 lbs., then placed an impressive second at the World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, her first World medal.

She fell short of making the 2001 World Team, then started an impressive run at the lightest weight class, 48 kg/105.5 lbs. In 2002, she qualified for the U.S. World Team but did not medal at the World Championships. There was some amazing news for women’s wrestling at that time, when the International Olympic Committee announced that women’s freestyle wrestling would be added to the Summer Olympic Games with four weight classes. It gave talented and motivated wrestlers like Patricia Miranda an opportunity to pursue an Olympic dream, and a chance to make that historic first U.S. Women’s Olympic Team in 2004.

After graduating at Stanford, Miranda was accepted to Yale Law School, but she deferred her admission there to train for the Olympic Games. She moved to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., where she could focus full-time on training and preparation. Her 2003 season was outstanding. She won major events such as the Pan American Games, the World Cup and international tourneys in France, Ukraine and the United States. After winning the U.S. Open and World Team Trials again, she went to the World Championships in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Miranda won a silver medal, losing to talented Irini Merlini of Ukraine in the finals. That U.S. team had seven medalists and placed second as a team.

During the 2003-2004 season, international media attention was placed on women’s wrestling, as the newest sport in the Olympic Games. In the United States, Patricia Miranda became the face of the American women’s team, not only interviewed by major sports media, but also appearing in publications such as Time Magazine and People. It was her combination of talent, intelligence and personality which captured the public interest, and helped introduce women’s wrestling to millions of people who were not aware of the sport.

Miranda continued her outstanding performances, winning the 2004 U.S. Open and earning the top seed for the first U.S. Olympic Team Trials which featured women’s wrestling, which were held in Indianapolis, Ind. Advancing directly to the best-of-three series, where she drew talented Clarissa Chun. Miranda won the first match, 6-3, and closed out the series with an impressive 10-0 technical fall in the second match. She joined Tela O’Donnell (55 kg), Sara McMann (63 kg) and Toccara Montgomery (72 kg) as America’s first women’s wrestling Olympians.

At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, Miranda drew into a pool of four athletes. She opened her Olympic experience with an 8-5 win over Li Hui of China, then stopped tough Russian Larisa Oorzhak, 7-4. Her third pool match was a dominant 11-1 technical fall over Mayelis Caripa of Venezuela.

Miranda drew World champion Irini Merlini in the semifinals, and the Ukrainian got off to a great start, scoring three takedowns, including an ankle pick with exposure, to lead 6-0 at the break. In the second period, after Merlini was passive, she reversed Miranda to her back for three, and beat the American 9-0.

That placed Miranda in the bronze-medal match against Angelique Berthenet of France. It was the first medal match for women’s wrestling in Olympic history. It started poorly for Miranda, as Berthenet hit a headlock throw for four points, but Miranda got a reversal to trail 1-4. Then she opened her offense, getting a takedown and tilt to tie the bout at 4-4, then a two-point gut wrench to lead 6-4 at the break. The second period was all Miranda, with a takedown and gut for a 9-4 lead, then another gutwrench for a final 12-4 victory. The first Olympic medal match in women’s wrestling history went to American Patricia Miranda, and when she stood on the awards stand shortly after, she became our first Olympic medalist.

Later that day, American Sara McMann would also stand on an Olympic podium, getting her silver medal at 63 kg. Both American medalists had come to win gold, and dealt with the disappointment of not reaching their goal.

“Winning a medal definitely helps, in that it's an honor to see your flag raised, to see your country represented, to look genuinely happy to have been able to have clashed heads with the best in the world. I do have to say that the six-hour period between the semifinals and my third and fourth match was probably one of the hardest I've had in my sport. Every time I go to bed I see gold. But, there is some pride,” said Miranda.

Miranda continued competing for another Olympic cycle. She took the 2005 season off to concentrate on her studies at Yale Law School. When she returned to the mat for 2006, she quickly returned to the top of the U.S. ladder, winning U.S. Open and World Team Trials titles, then adding a World bronze medal, her third World medal. In 2007, she moved up to 51 kg, beating Jenny Wong in the World Team Trials finals, but was unable to compete at the Worlds for medical reasons.

Seeking her second Olympic team, Miranda went down to 48 kg for 2008, and got the upper hand in the weight with the U.S. Open title. At the Olympic Trials in Las Vegas, Nev., Miranda faced long-time rival Clarissa Chun in the finals series. This time, it was Chun who had the upper hand, winning two straight matches to make the 2012 Olympic Team. That year, Chun was fifth at the Olympics, and won the separate World Championships gold medal a few months later.

In 2009, Miranda won the U.S. Open, up at 51 kg, but fell to Jessica Medina in the best of three series at World Team Trials, two matches to one. It was her last year of competition.

Patricia Miranda had one of the greatest careers among U.S. women wrestlers, the first Olympic medalist, a three-time World medalist, and a person who helped bring the sport into a much more prominent place in the general public.

Photo shows Patricia Miranda with her armed raised in victory at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

This week, TheMat.com will feature a top women’s wrestler who has reached a major milestone for USA Wrestling.