Sanderson keeping everyone guessing about possible return - Sports | Centre Daily Times
Don?t call it a comeback. Or can we? Or should we wait? Or are we hoping to see something athletes with bigger egos than this often pursue? In a way only he can, Penn State coach Cael Sanderson has the wrestling world guessing about his intentions for this weekend?s World Team Trials in Oklahoma City.
As of Tuesday, Sanderson wasn?t entered in the event. But check back today, Thursday, Friday or even possibly Saturday. The 185-pound freestyle competition begins and ends Saturday. Multiple sources close to Sanderson said it?s possible he hasn?t made a final decision yet. Sanderson?s status as a past Olympic champion makes him eligible to compete in any USA Wrestling event. Weigh-ins for Sanderson?s class are Friday. He has until Saturday?s first whistle to make a decision.
The comeback chatter started in March when Sanderson fulfilled a promise he made with his team by wrestling in a USA Wrestling regional event at SUNY Brock-port. Sanderson entered the tournament on a Friday. He dominated the 211-pound bracket a day later. Sanderson has watched the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club blossom this spring, culminating in a second-place team finish during April?s U.S. Open in Cleveland. Sanderson spends large portions of his days training NLWC athletes and looks as trim as he did when he won an Olympic freestyle gold medal at 185 pounds in 2004.
Sanderson, according to multiple sources, has returned to 185 despite a busy life. Coaching a college team that recently won NCAA and Big Ten titles requires 24-hour thinking. The NLWC needs successful fundraising efforts to bring talented athletes such as Les Sigman, Teyon Ware and Jake Varner to State College. The club needs somebody with impressive credentials to train those athletes. The hectic lifestyle hasn?t diminished Sanderson?s wrestling skills.
?He?s looking as good as he always does,? said NCAA champion Quentin Wright, who?s competing at 185 pounds this weekend. ?Tough as nails, beating everybody up.?
Sanderson has always been the toughest wrestler in the room. He never lost in college and captured a gold medal on his first attempt. He then became a head coach and his wrestling days appeared over ? until recently. Sanderson said in January being around world team members him to ponder a comeback.
?I like competing,? he said at the time. ?I have always played around with that in my mind. But coaching is more than a full-time job. We have goals we want to accomplish here.?
Penn State accomplished two of those goals in March. But one source close to Sanderson said the titles don?t alter Sanderson?s views toward competing again. If Sanderson wrestles, it will be because it?s something he wants to do, another challenge to stimulate a fierce competitor. Maybe Sanderson, who turns 32 in 12 days, feels this is an ideal time to test himself against the sport?s current stars.
USA Wrestling finds itself in a difficult spot regarding Sanderson. Ask too much of him, and he might cool to the idea of wrestling. But, the freestyle program needs a boost after a disappointing 2010 World Championships. Sanderson?s return also would generate interest that extends beyond traditional wrestling outlets. USA Wrestling isn?t prodding Sanderson to make a comeback, but he and national freestyle coach Zeke Jones communicate frequently. Jones said he wouldn?t be surprised if Sanderson competes this weekend.
?Sure, it could happen.? Jones told the Centre Daily Times. ?If I was a betting man, I would bet that he would to do it. But, I would only bet you a dollar. I wouldn?t bet much.?
Jones added that Sanderson would wrestle only if he thinks he can compete at a high level.
?He needs to know in his heart and his mind what he wants to do,? Jones said. ?He may of made that decision by now or he might make it a minute before weigh-ins are over.?
The return of an Olympic champion would create some interesting scenarios. Former Northwestern star Jake Herbert won the U.S. Open and receives a bye into the 185-pound final. Former Pitt star Keith Gavin finished second in Cleveland. The rest of the bracket will be randomly drawn. Could Sanderson and Wright meet in a early round? Maybe Sanderson draws Jon Reader, a 2011 NCAA champion who wrestled for him at Iowa State. Imagine the interest a meeting between Sanderson and 2008 Olympian Andy Hrovat creates.
Unlike other star athletes, including one playing in the NBA Finals, Sanderson will quietly make his decision sometime this week. He?s being inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame today and Wednesday. There?s a better chance of LeBron James returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers than Sanderson turning the ceremony into a Gatorade toast to himself. One thing is certain ? Sanderson has been dropping plenty of sweat inside the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex these days. And only he knows whether he?ll quench his thirst to compete this weekend.
Guy Cipriano covers wrestling for the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at (814) 231-4643 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cdtguy.