PHOTO COURTESY USA WRESTLING
Clarissa Chun of Kapolei beat Patricia Miranda at the Olympic Trials in June in Las Vegas.
Trip to Olympics in China no surprise to Chun
THIRD IN A SERIES
The transition went smoothly for Clarissa Chun. After eight years of judo success, she traded her gi for a singlet and won two state wrestling titles at Roosevelt High.
However, the next transition - that of U.S. National Wrestling Team member to U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team medal hopeful - is not quite complete. Chun (Roosevelt '99) still finds it hard to believe that she will be in Beijing next month.
"It hasn't sunk in," she said. "I still ask myself, 'Did it really happen?'"
Few believed the 26-year-old could pull off the upset of upsets at last month's Olympic Trials in Las Vegas. While top-ranked and three-time reigning national champ Patricia Miranda had a bye into the 48kg (105.5 pounds) final, the 4-foot-11 Chun had to win three challenge matches.
The Star-Bulletin profiles Hawaii's athletes competing in next month's Beijing Games
It set up a rematch of the 2004 trials final that the 5-foot Miranda won, advancing to the Olympic debut of women's wrestling, where she took the bronze. Chun was an alternate, going to Athens and gaining motivation.
At the U.S. Nationals earlier this year, Chun again lost to Miranda in a semifinal match so close many thought Chun had won. Chun eventually finished fourth but felt that she could beat Miranda the next time they would meet.
» Full name: Clarissa M.L.K. Chun
» Birthdate: August 27, 1981
» High school: Roosevelt (1999)
» Hometown: Kapolei
» Event: Women's freestyle 48kg (105.5 lbs)
» Olympics: Second (2004 alternate)
» Competition date: Aug. 16
» Career highlights: Two-time high school state champion (1998, '99). Four-time U.S. World Team trials runner-up (2000-03), third in '05. U.S. National champion (2006), runner-up (1999, 2000, '03, '04) and third (2007).
» Fun fact: Chun is listed as the second-smallest U.S. Olympian (4-11, 105 pounds). Gymnast Shawn Johnson is 4-8.
» Tomorrow: Kim Willoughby, volleyball.
It happened last month, with Chun winning the best-of-three match 2-0.
"I knew I could do it as long as I stayed focused," Chun said. "But I was still surprised. Even the next day I was, 'Oh, my gosh. I beat her twice.' It was revenge after what happened in 2004. Everyone expected her to win. She even thought she'd make the team."
Instead, Chun will make her third trip to China. In 2002, she traveled to Beijing with her Missouri Valley College team on an exchange program; in 2006, she went to the World Championship as a training partner.
That her ancestors are from China helped fuel her desire to make this Olympic team.
"It was part of my motivation," said Chun, who burst onto the national scene when placing second as a 17-year-old at the U.S. Nationals. "That was the first point. The second is I've been training all my life, have been competing since I was 7.
"I've always wanted to be in the Olympics since the first time I saw them on TV. And when they announced in 2002 that women's wrestling would be in the Games, my dream was one step closer."
Only four weight classes are being contested at the Olympics and competition is expected to be very tough in all.
In the 48kg are Japan's Chiharu Icho, the two-time defending world champion and 2004 silver medalist; Ukraine's Irini Merlini, the 2004 gold medalist; and 2005 world champion Xueceng Ren of China. Other contenders are Mayelis Caripa of Venezuela, Canadian Carol Huynh, Sofia Mattsson of Sweden and Maria Stadnyk from Azerbaijan.
"I feel my chances for a medal are good," Chun said. "I think I'll be right up there as long as I stay focused. I can do this. I have trained hard for this.
"I'm lucky in that my competition (Aug. 16) is in the middle of the Games so I can participate in the Opening Ceremonies. I'm just excited and happy my family can be there."
Chun's rooting section will include her parents and brother and sister-in-law. She said some of her high school friends were also trying to make the trip.
One friend who will be there is Taylor Takata ('Iolani '00), who made the Olympic judo team the same day Chun made the wrestling team. The Olympic Trials for USA Judo and USA Wrestling were held concurrently at the Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV last month.
"I knew Taylor through judo and then we'd see each other at the (U.S. Olympic) Training Center," Chun said. "I wanted to watch his competition, but I had to focus on my own.
"I did talk to him during warm-ups. We said, 'Let's do this, let's represent Hawaii.' And now we are. People forget about us, being in the middle of the ocean. It's great to be able to put Hawaii on the map. I'm so proud to represent my family and Hawaii."
As for the future, Chun said it depends on how she fares at the Games. She's still interested in teaching English in Japan but may put that on hold to compete at the wrestling world championships later this season.
There's also a thought about one of her new interests. Chun augments her wrestling by training at a mixed martial arts facility in Denver.
"I'm a big fan of MMA," she said. "I have friends who compete and I have access to train that way. I don't know if I'll do that, though."