2008 Olympic bronze medalist Randi Miller has qualified for her first U.S. World Team this year. Tony Rotundo photos.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Randi Miller hooked her Internet into the television and sat down to watch the 2012 Olympic Games.
Shortly after the wrestling competition started, the reality quickly set in.
“I started to get emotional,” Miller said. “I felt like I should’ve been there wrestling or at the least over there training with the people who were competing. It took me back to 2008. I wanted to be out there again.”
The powerful Miller is back now, and in a big way despite stepping away from competition for more than five years.
The Arlington, Texas native has beaten a number of top opponents this season, including two World champions and a World silver medalist, and has landed a spot on her first U.S. World Team at 69 kg/152 lbs.
“It’s definitely special,” Miller said. “I treat this like it’s my first time because it’s my first time on the World Team. It’s been a while since I’ve seen international competition at this level, so I’m happy to be here and I’m happy to have another opportunity like this on the Senior level.”
Miller earned a bronze medal for the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China. She placed third at 63 kg/138.75 lbs. in women’s freestyle wrestling.
Then at just 24 years old – after a breakthrough season and after making her first World-level team – Miller surprisingly walked away from the sport.
“It was a lot of things,” Miller said. “There were some personal things going on, and I thought maybe this just wasn’t for me.”
Miller’s feelings changed in 2012 after watching the Olympics.
“I missed everything about wrestling,” Miller said. “I never really felt like I was completely done when I stepped away in 2008.”
Miller actually resumed training in late 2012. She then joined the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program, but was off the mat for six months while going through basic training and other required training with the Army.
Miller returned to competition for the first time in more than five years when she placed second this past November at the New York AC International. She was pinned in the finals by 2012 World silver medalist Dorothy Yeats of Canada, but Miller came back to pin Yeats a couple of months later at the Klippan Lady Open in Sweden. Miller ended up second in the Klippan event, falling to World No. 5 Aline Focken of Germany in the finals.
Miller also turned in a strong performance in winning the 2014 Dave Schultz Memorial International in Colorado Springs. She rallied to beat Junior World champion Feng Zhau of China 12-10 in the semifinals before knocking off 2012 World champion Elena Pirozhkova of the U.S. 2-1 in the finals.
Miller followed by winning April’s U.S. Open in Las Vegas and then downed 2013 World champion Alina Makhinya of Ukraine 11-5 in May’s Beat the Streets Dual in New York City.
She then won a tough three-match battle against 2013 U.S. World Team member Veronica Carlson last month to make the U.S. Team at 69 kilos. Miller dropped the first bout before winning the next two.
“It’s been a great experience, having success at a lot of tournaments this season,” said Miller, who is 19-4 this season. “I had a lot of fun doing well in those events, but you’ve got to beat these girls when it counts in a couple weeks at the Worlds. None of what you did earlier in the year really matters when you get to Worlds.”
The World Championships are set for Sept. 8-14 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
“Randi’s always going to give 100 percent when she steps on the mat,” U.S. National Coach Terry Steiner said. “She wrestles a straightforward, in-your-face style and she gets after it. There are definitely some areas we are working on with her during World Team Camp to get in line. I’m expecting Randi to go in and perform. She’s performed well on the big stage before.
“It’s been a long time off the competition mat at this level, but she’s definitely hungry and she knows how to win big matches. She knows how to win close matches and she’s a great competitor. I’m looking for that to shine through at the World Championships.”
Miller is in a loaded weight class at 69 kilos. 2012 Olympic champion and 2013 World silver medalist Natalia Vorobieva of Russia is ranked No. 1 in the World. 2012 World champion Jenny Fransson of Sweden is ranked second and Makhinya is third. Asian Championships winner Sara Dosho of Japan is ranked fourth and Yeats is sixth. Miller is ranked 13th in the World.
Miller competes in a new weight class that includes wrestlers who have moved up from the old 67 kilos class and a number of top athletes who have moved down from the old 72 kilos division.
“Randi’s in a really tough weight class,” Steiner said. “There are some tough girls in there and we know that. We’re really going to have to be ready. This weight class is stacked. Randi is going to have to win three or four tough matches to win this competition, and she’s capable of doing it. She definitely has to wrestle her style.”
Miller competed briefly in mixed martial arts during her time away from wrestling. She won her only professional fight.
“I had trouble finding fights,” she said. “It was frustrating and my career didn’t pick up as fast as I wanted it to. That door isn’t closed yet. Maybe after I’m done wrestling, I will pick up some fights for fun.”
For now, Miller’s focus is on wrestling through this Olympic cycle. She is 30 years old and plans to wrestle through the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“Everyone’s goal in this room is be on the Olympic Team,” Miller said. “Everyone’s goal is to be a World and Olympic medalist, and that’s what I’m working for in 2014, 2015 and 2016. I want to win gold medals.”
Miller is on a strong U.S. team that includes World champions in Pirozhkova and Adeline Gray along with World silver medalist Helen Maroulis and two-time World bronze medalist Alyssa Lampe. The U.S. finished third in the team race at the 2013 Worlds.
“I believe in this team,” she said. “I believe we have a shot at winning the team title. It’s all about going out there and doing it. We have the team that can get the job done.”
Miller is fully aware that past achievements won’t help her when she steps on the mat in Uzbekistan.
“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done last year, two years ago or even last week,” she said. “This is wrestling and you have to prove yourself every time you step on the mat. For me, I’m not a medalist this year. I’m a girl competing to be a medalist. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done in the past.”
Miller knows what her mindset will be when she steps on the mat for her first World-level event in six years.
“Once the whistle blows, I will be ready,” she said. “I think I’ll be just fine. Once the tournament starts and they tell me to go, I will be ready to compete. I feel great, I’m in great shape and I’m excited to wrestle.”