IOWA CITY, Ia. — Coleman Scott stopped mid-sentence Saturday night, an Olympic Trials champion awestruck by the scene around him.
Two past Olympic wrestling teams stood center stage inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The biggest crowd in Olympic Trials history applauded. Dan Gable stepped to the front of the line in the city he turned wrestling-crazy and 13,750 roared.
Scott watched in admiration as the ovation for Gable lasted more than 30 seconds. By the time it ended, he forgot the original question and his emotions came out.
“I don’t like Iowa, but you come here and it’s awesome — there’s nothing (bad) I can say about it,” said Scott, an NCAA champion for Iowa rival Oklahoma State. “Iowa did an awesome job hosting this thing so far. … We doubled (the 2008 Olympic Trials attendance) here. That’s pretty cool to me.”
USA Wrestling brought the Trials to Iowa City in search of bigger crowds, louder cheers and a better sendoff for its Olympians — and Carver-Hawkeye Arena delivered Saturday.
Reigning world champion Jordan Burroughs and 2011 bronze medalist Jake Varner clinched spots on the U.S. freestyle team, Greco-Roman stars Spenser Mango, Justin Lester, Chas Betts and Dremiel Byers punched tickets to London, and Kelsey Campbell and Stephany Lee toppled top seeds in women’s freestyle.
Burroughs needed three periods to beat Andrew Howe 4-2, 1-2, 1-0 in the opening match of the 163-pound championship series. The second bout never occurred after Howe pulled out with an injury.
“I would’ve liked to have dominated the second match and have a lot of Americans get to see me wrestle,” Burroughs said. “I’ll never forget this. For the rest of my life I’ll always remember I had that second match that wasn’t wrestled. But I won the first match, gutted it out and got it done and I’m happy about it.”
Like Burroughs, Varner has bigger goals than just making the Olympic team. The two-time NCAA champion from Iowa State won four consecutive periods to sweep the best-of-three championship against Tommy Rowlands at 211.5.
“I’m going there to win the gold medal or I wouldn’t be doing this,” said Varner, who used last-second takedowns to win the second and third periods of the first bout and won a 2-0, 1-0 decision to clinch the series. “It’s kind of cool to say you’re an Olympian, but I want to be an Olympic champion.”
Scott’s work isn’t done yet. The 132-pound Trials champion’s Olympic hopes rest on the shoulders of Shawn Bunch, who left this week in an attempt to qualify the weight class at a tournament in China.
If Bunch qualifies the weight for the Olympics, he would tangle later this spring with Scott and 2011 World Team member Reece Humphrey, who sat out this week with an injury, to determine the Olympic participant.
“It’s probably not the best situation for me, but I’ve got to do it,” said Scott, who swept Ohio State freshman Logan Stieber in the final series. “If I go get a couple more wins in a couple weeks, I’ll solidify my spot and show ’em I’m an Olympian.”
Mango, Lester, Betts and Byers — all past World Team members — all punctuated their titles by sweeping the best-of-three championship series.
Campbell and Lee took the tough route through the tournament, wrestling through Saturday’s Challenge Tournament before knocking off top seeds who received an automatic pass to the finals.
Lee beat 2005 World champion Iris Smith and swept the 158.5-pound final against 2011 World bronze medalist Ali Bernard. winning all four periods by a collective 17-4 margin.
Campbell, who started wrestling nine years ago as a high school senior on a bet she couldn’t last two weeks on the boys team, defeated Helen Maroulis in a pair of three-period bouts at 121.
“It’s surreal,” Campbell said with her eyes still watering more than 10 minutes after punching her ticket to the London Games. “I feel like I’m dreaming. Is this real? It’s crazy. It’s awesome. So many people believed, a lot of people believed. But I think I had to go out there and do it to believe.”