May 18, 2021

InterMat Wrestling – Humanity Shines Through at Olympic Team Trials


Jenna Burkert with young fans after the challenge tournament finals (Photo/Tony Rotundo,

I walked down as close to the floor as possible Saturday night to get one last picture of Dickies Arena before the finals began. Before leaving, I took a few brief moments to soak it in and appreciate the human moments that this event brought us over two days. So many of our top athletes had their dreams shattered this weekend, some for the first time and some for the last. But through the tears and agony that showed on their faces, a light shined through.

This light provided many moments where we could see who these athletes really are. Sometimes we as fans get caught up in the competition and the tribal-like mentality of rooting for teams or clubs and we miss these moments because they don’t align with our fandom. One of the many examples of this is wrestlers who just took tough, heartbreaking losses who were happy to give out pictures and autographs to any young fan that was brave enough to walk to the edge of the aisle and ask. Others took countless pictures, shook hands, and signed shirts and programs while in the stands with their families. Those lucky enough to score pictures and other prizes were smiling big enough to light up the 14,000-seat arena on their own.

One family sat right in front of me during the consolations and encouraged their young son and daughter to go down and get as many autographs as possible. During the many trips up and down the stairs to get signatures, the young man forgot his shirt and marker. Not to miss an opportunity, the young man asked for Jason Nolf’s singlet. Jason didn’t even bat an eye and quickly came back with the uniform for the youngster. Once the singlet was in hand, he sprinted up the stairs to high fives from his family and smiles all around.

We saw strong embraces between fierce rivals after dreams were realized. We were witness to thunderous standing ovations for retiring athletes who had given it their all for the final time. And we were lucky enough to see the appreciation of generational talents being pushed by the next wave of American greats.

After this weekend, we will talk about wins and losses. We will talk about the big moves, incredible runs by underdogs, and countless other unforgettable moments. We will also talk about controversy and rules until we are blue in the face. After all that, I just hope we don’t forget these human moments that make our sport so special and unique.


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