Wrestling star might never return
By CHUCK SCHOFFNER
The Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa – Cael Sanderson figures his future always will involve something around the wrestling mat.
It just might not be on the mat.
Sanderson, the best wrestler in U.S. college history, has not competed or trained since winning a gold medal at the Athens Olympics last August. He is not sure when – or even if – he will resume.
"I don't know if I'm going to wrestle again," Sanderson said.
The drive that carried Sanderson to a 159-0 record and four NCAA championships at Iowa State, to three U.S. national freestyle titles and then to Olympic gold at 185 pounds is being channeled in another direction now.
Sanderson is an assistant coach at Iowa State – and he loves it.
"Had I not won [in Athens], it probably would have been a different story," he said. "Right now, I'm content coaching. There are new challenges. I've been waking up for so many years with this goal, seeing what I can do that day to get to that goal.
"It's nice to actually change that up a little bit and do something else for a change. I'm having a great time."
Sanderson is heavily involved in recruiting. What high school wrestler would not be impressed when a guy who never lost in college and won a gold medal walks into the room?
"He's had a tremendous impact on recruiting," Iowa State coach Bobby Douglas said Tuesday. "He's approaching the coaching like he approached the wrestling. He's got a great future ahead of him."
While U.S. freestyle teams would be stronger with Sanderson in the lineup, USA Wrestling officials say they understand his desire to do something else.
"Obviously, we'd love to see Cael continue to compete," said Rich Bender, the organization's executive director. "We also love the fact that he's decided to stay involved in the sport. We think Cael will be as outstanding as a coach as he was as an athlete."
Sanderson will turn 26 this month, so he's just getting into the prime years for a freestyle wrestler. Another Iowa State assistant coach, Chris Bono, is the reigning national champion at 145 1/2 pounds and he's 31. Heavyweight champion Tolly Thompson will be 32 on June 25. Joe Williams, the national champ at 163, is 30.
"Obviously his youth bodes well for him to continue at a very high level from a competitive standpoint if he chooses to," Bender said Tuesday. "Certainly Cael, if he chose to, would be a contender on the international scene for several more Olympic quadrenniums."
For now, though, Sanderson has another agenda.
"I still feel like I'm competing. I'm competing for recruits," he said. "Maybe I can give more back to the wrestling world as a coach and help promote the sport that way."