PHOTO COURTESY OF AL ELREFAI / WWW.AMATEURWRESTLINGPHOTOS.COM
Debbi Sakai executed a blast double-leg takedown on Hawaii teammate Candice Takamisu (in red) at the 2002 Senior Nationals.
opening its doors
The U.S. Olympic Education
Center has offered five Hawaii women
full scholarships in the sport
A women's wrestling section with 16 full scholarships will be added to the United States Olympic Education Center in Michigan next month.
Five of the 16 scholarships have been offered to women from Hawaii.
"Hawaii is a leader in women's wrestling in our country," says Terry Steiner, coach of the U.S. National Team.
When coach Shannyn Gillespie opens his office for the first time tomorrow, he will be checking the mail for acceptances from Danyelle Hedin, Donell Bradley and Debbi Sakai.
Joining them will be: Tanya Miyasaki (Castle '02), who wrestled one year at Menlo College in California, and Ku'u Johnson (Radford '02), who wrestled the last two seasons at Lassen community college in California.
>> 2004 Kailua High School graduate
>> Named a first-team prep All-American on Tuesday.
>> 1999 Moanalua High School graduate
>> 2003 Missouri Valley College graduate
>> 2003 Mililani High School graduate
>> Wrestled at Missouri Valley last season
The center is located at Northern Michigan University in Marquette on the shore of Lake Superior. Athletes take classes there but compete on USA national teams.
The education center is designed to provide training and college to athletes with Olympic potential in "nontraditional" sports that are not sponsored by the NCAA.
Already in place are sections for boxing, speed skating, men's Greco Roman wrestling and weight lifting. It is the only center of its kind funded by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"We are trying to get them ready for the Olympics," Gillespie said. "The idea is to grow the sport.
"We will have a lot of international competition, maybe four overseas tours a year, so they can learn to compete at that level," he added.
The combination of free school and Olympic training is what attracted the Hawaii women.
Bradley said she accepted the offer because, "I think it will be a great opportunity to not only further my education but to also better myself as a competitor."
In addition to working for a possible spot on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, Bradley will work for a masters degree in exercise science at Northern Michigan.
Sakai said she would transfer after the fall semester, because her classes were already set at Missouri Valley.
"There are going to be a lot of good wrestlers there," Sakai said.
"The training will be a lot tougher. It will make me a stronger wrestler," added Sakai, who took second place at 112 pounds this year in the Senior National Championships.
Gillespie says the education center will serve as a kind of "feeder program," sending the best prospects on to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
Being chosen for the Olympic Training Center, where two other Hawaii wrestlers -- Clarissa Chun (Roosevelt '99) and Katie Kunimoto (Castle '99) -- have been residents since it opened in 2002, is the goal of all the Hawaii women.
"It would be nice to make it into OTC one day, then maybe make a World team, and get a shot at the 2008 Olympics," Sakai said.
"One of my coaches at Missouri Valley told me this will be great opportunity," Sakai added.
Hedin has been at the Training Center for a month this summer as guest, and said, "I'm getting my butt kicked wrestling Olympians, but it's a good experience. I am learning a lot."
She sees the Olympic Education Center as her ticket to become a full-time resident in two years and get on the fast track to the 2008 Olympic Games at Beijing.
"That's my plan," she says.
>> Women's wrestling will debut as an Olympic Games sport next month in Athens.
>> A week after winning her third straight state high school championship in March, Hedin won junior national freestyle and high school national folkstyle championships in Minnesota. She was named the Outstanding Wrestler at one of the meets.
In May she placed second in the Pan American Cup in Guatemala.
>> Debbi Sakai was runner-up in the 112-pound division at the U.S. Senior National Championships in Las Vegas this year. She qualified for the Olympic Trials but chose not to compete.
>> Chun, Kunimoto, Stephany Lee, Kapua Torres and Kristin Fujioka all competed in the Trials. Chun fared best, finishing second. Lee, who is rated as a top prospect for the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, reached the finals of the challenge round.
>> Lee said she will return to Missouri Valley College this fall. Torres and Fujioka are expected to return to Pacific University in Oregon.