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Buckeye wrestlers set sights on the Olympics

Five Ohio State wrestlers are traveling to Iowa City, Iowa, Friday with one common goal – to make the U.S. Olympic team.

Carver-Hawkeye Arena will serve as the proving ground for J.D. Bergman, Reece Humphrey, Tommy Rowlands, Colt Sponseller and Logan Stieber as they compete in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Wrestling Trials.

The tournament will take place Saturday and Sunday with a trip to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London on the line.

The wrestlers have spent years preparing at the Ohio Regional Training Center in Columbus for the opportunity to participate in the trials this weekend. OSU wrestling coach Tom Ryan said having the Ohio RTC in Columbus has played an integral part in allowing current and former Buckeyes to reach their dream of competing in the Olympics.

“When I got hired, one of the missions was to make sure that we had a regional training center,” Ryan said. “This is something that we needed to have here to help develop our student-athletes at Ohio State. It is really impacting our program.”

The only current Buckeye who will be wrestling this weekend is Stieber. The redshirt freshman from Monroeville, Ohio, won the 2012 Big Ten and NCAA championship at 133 pounds, finishing the year with a 33-2 record. Stieber, competing in the 60-kilogram weight class, said he first thought about the Olympic team last year at the World Team Trials.

“Last year when I took fourth, it was nice to go out and work through trials and just to compete and show where I stand,” Stieber said. “This year my main goal was just to win a national title and I knew I would probably get a wildcard, so I’m just excited to compete in the Olympic Trials.”

To earn a spot on the Olympic team, Stieber will have to beat training partner and OSU graduate Humphrey. The former Buckeye is the reigning U.S. Open champion and No. 1-ranked wrestler in the country in the 60-kilogram weight class.

Humphrey is recovering from a fractured metacarpal in his left hand, which he suffered during practice, but said that’s just the nature of the sport.

“Kind of bad luck, bad timing, but it’s wrestling, man. You gotta deal with it,” Humphrey said. “Things happen in this sport. You get injured, you get hurt. It’s a day-to-day thing and it’s feeling really good right now.”

Sponseller is competing for a position on the team in the 74-kilogram weight class. The former Buckeye wrestled at OSU from 2008-2011 and was a three-time NCAA championships qualifier.

Sponseller said the high level of competition provided by the veteran wrestlers at the RTC helped him in his time at OSU and is helping him as he prepares for the Olympic Trials.

“I think it drives us while we’re in school, but also afterwards if we wanna try to compete to make the Olympic team,” Sponseller said. “I think it’s good motivation to have these guys in here and they definitely are a driving force for all the young guys here.”

The final two Buckeyes attempting to make the U.S. Olympic team are Bergman and Rowlands. Bergman, a 2008 graduate, was a three-time All-American and four-time NCAA qualifier in his time at OSU. Rowlands wrestled for the Buckeyes from 2001-2004 and is the OSU all-time career leader in wins, team points and takedowns.

Bergman and Rowlands have been friends for a decade, but like Humphrey and Stieber, the pair is competing in the same weight class, so only one of them can make the team. Rowlands said that on the mat it’s about winning, but when it’s over nothing will change.

“I’ve known J.D. for 10 years,” Rowlands said. “We’ve maintained a great friendship throughout all of this and I’m sure that if it comes down to it, he’ll go for his and I’ll go for mine and then we’ll go back to being friends.”

Bergman agreed with Rowlands and said that despite their friendship, there is only limited space on the team and each man has the dream of being an Olympic champion.

“There’s only one spot, and it just so happens it has to be people who have been friends for 10 years,” Bergman said. “When it comes down to shaking hands and wrestling, you put that aside and you’re still trying to accomplish your goals.”

Ryan said he has tremendous pride in the five wrestlers who have made their way through the OSU program over the years. He said their stories are an inspiration that will hopefully attract future wrestlers with similar dreams to OSU.

“It is a critical component for the type of people we’re looking for,” Ryan said. “We want young men in this country that wanna win Olympic gold medals. We can look them in the eye and say, ‘That is possible at Ohio State.'”

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