She had wanted to end it with some good old-fashioned give-and-take wrestling. Instead, Carol Huynh got two trips to the magic tiebreaker cylinder.
Both times after scoreless rounds, she reached in and pulled out a round container that secretly held a blue ball. Wearing the blue singlet, it meant she got to choose her opponent’s weak spot and go after it like Butcher Vachon on an unsuspecting Harley Race. She did – she won the bronze medal.
Huynh may have celebrated Olympic gold four years ago by crying at the playing of O Canada, but she was no less thrilled Wednesday to have captured a second medal. She grabbed her head in amazement after winning the bronze and waved happily to her family and friends inside the ExCeL Centre.
The only thing that bothered her was facing an opponent – Senegal’s Isabelle Sambou – who wanted to stay clear of Huynh’s moves and counters. Sambou’s tactics produced four scoreless minutes, hence the two trips to the magic tiebreaker cylinder, which worked to Huynh’s advantage.
“It was frustrating and I knew she’d probably come out with that kind of strategy with me because I’m the kind of wrestler who’s better with movement,” Huynh explained. “I was feeling of course elated that I’d won another medal for Canada but at the same time I was telling some other people I wanted to go out with a little more flare. I didn’t want it to end in two clinches. But I’ll take it. I want that bronze medal.”
Emotionally, there was more pressure on Huynh to produce at these Olympics than in Beijing. Something of a surprise winner in 2008, she later endured a bulging disc in her neck then a knee problem that needed time for recovery. In late May, she strained the medial collateral ligament in her other knee and needed more time off. Until Wednesday, the 31-year-old from Hazelton, B.C., had wrestled only one round of a Canada Cup match in late June.
It wasn’t ideal training, but Huynh’s experience got her to London and helped her rebound after losing her semi-final match, 2-0, to Japan’s Hitomi Obara, the eventual gold medalist.
“Physically I knew I could do it. I was becoming an older athlete. I had to make a few adjustments with that,” she said, “It was more my own belief I could keep going and enjoy the sport. The reason I began it because I loved the competition, being in control and feeling I was really good at something. Wrestling has definitely been that.”
What Huynh has given wrestling is considerable. Her bronze marked the sixth consecutive Olympics in which Canada has reached the podium. Overall, Canada now has 15 Olympic medals from its male and female wrestlers. Olympic coach Paul Ragusa didn’t mince words in describing Huynh’s worth.
“Carol is, in my eyes, a legend in the sport. She’s one of the hardest workers we have in our room. She’s an inspiration to our athletes and for a lot of young kids coming up,” said Ragusa. “She’s incredible for our sport, a great ambassador.”
The day was bittersweet, though, for Canada’s female wrestlers. For a second Olympics, Montreal’s Martine Dugrenier narrowly missed a bronze medal in the 63-kilogram weight class. On Wednesday, she was beaten by Mongolia’s Battsetseg Soronzonbold. Four years earlier, Dugrenier lost a heartbreaker in the repechage round.
“It’s hard to be so close. In Beijing, I might have been closer than today,” said Dugrenier. “I’m disappointed I’m not leaving with an Olympic medal, but I have to think about all the hard work I did, and I think I did everything.”
The Canadian drew two-time Olympic champion Kaori Icho from Japan in her first match and suffered a tight loss. Dugrenier then had to wait through an agonizingly long afternoon for Icho to wrestle into the gold medal final. That allowed Dugrenier to compete for bronze.
“This year takes two years off my life every time because as much as I’m happy for Carol,” explained coach Leigh Vierling, “You think, ‘Why couldn’t it happen for that kid too?’ When Carol wins, it’s so awesome, and then we have to move right along. You dwell on the ones that got away. I really believe all four girls can challenge for the podium here. So that hurts.”