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World champ Chun intent on making second Olympics


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POSTED: Thursday, April 23, 2009

Clarissa Chun may be coming off her most successful year of freestyle wrestling ever, but it's not enough.

She may have earned her first Olympic berth with a stunning upset over heavily favored Patricia Miranda. She may have a fifth-place finish in last August's Olympics in Beijing. She may have followed that up with a world championship—her first—two months later in Japan. And she may have just won the U.S. national title in the 105.5-pound division and been named the outstanding wrestler in the women's field.

But the 27-year-old from Kapolei wants more. Despite her roaring success in freestyle wrestling since last summer, one match has left the Roosevelt graduate with tears of disappointment and the disgust of a competitor who expects so much more of herself.

After winning her first two matches in Beijing, Chun faced Japan's Chiharu Icho in the semifinal round. If she won, she would compete for gold. And Chun was leading Icho late, but a mental gaffe cost her precious last-second points and the victory.

She finished fifth, but she also gained a newfound determination to make the next Olympics in London in 2012 and to do better on the world's biggest stage.

“;After I lost, knowing that I could've done more, I was like, 'I'm not done. I want more. I want to make it to the next one,' “; Chun said recently in a sit-down interview in Waikiki during a weeklong vacation home.

That Chun was so dissatisfied with a fifth-place finish in the Olympic Games is a testament to how far she has come. By making the world championships as a 19-year-old, she appeared to be on the fast track to world domination, but she struggled to reach the pinnacle of the sport.

And in 2007, she failed to make the U.S. national team for the first time. It was a heartbreaking result that made her reevaluate her training, her work, her life. Chun had always trained in Colorado Springs with the rest of the U.S. national team, including the top five competitors in her weight class. But figuring that she had little chance to gain an edge working the same schedule, the same practices and the same grind as her opponents, she made the drastic decision to step away from the U.S. training program and branch out on her own.

She trained solely with her personal coach, Keith Wilson. She changed her training, her diet, her cardio, her weightlifting and her mental preparation. And she did all that just 12 months before the Olympics.

“;It was a tough road because I'd be getting up at 5, 5:30 in the morning for a conditioning workout at 6,”; Chun said. “;I was working out three times a day before the Olympic trials. ... It was good for me because it was like no one else is up this early training. I just wanted it so bad and when I won (the trials), it was an amazing feeling. I was on Cloud 9 because no one expected me to win. They might've expected me to be in the running, but everyone thought Patricia Miranda would win.”;

Though the decision inevitably created some tension in the U.S. wrestling world, the results speak for themselves. Since then, Chun has developed into a world champion.

“;It might've been a blessing in disguise because it probably woke her up,”; Wilson said. “;If she had made the national team (in 2007), she might not have taken a chance to win it and might have been complacent.”;

Chun is far from complacent now. Though she took a few months off after the world championships in Japan and stayed there to teach English (and “;gain a few kilos”; because of the food), she has her sights set on more. She wants more national titles, more world championships and one more shot at Olympic glory.

With the strides she has made in the last year, all those goals look attainable now.

“;I still think there's a lot of good potential left in her that we haven't tapped into yet,”; Wilson said. “;She has the potential to be spectacular. ... She could be one of the best wrestlers we've ever had here in the U.S. The potential is there to win the gold and win more world championships.”;