Todd Meneely put forth his best effort. But a painful leg injury wouldn't let the Omaha resident put on his best performance.
The former Omaha Skutt standout lost to Dustin Schlatter 5-0, 3-0 in his first match at 66 kilograms (145.5 pounds) during Sunday's U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials. Then, deciding not to risk further injury, he elected to injury default his consolation match later in the day.
Skutt coach Brad Hildebrandt, who also works with Meneely, said he was proud of his wrestler's effort in his first attempt at a U.S. team of any kind. The injury — a break in a small bone in his leg — occurred during a February tournament and forced Meneely to remain in a walking cast until about two weeks ago.
"He's worked extremely hard to try and get back," Hildebrandt said. "He wanted to give it a go, but it was just a tough situation for him. He made the decision that there will be better days."
Meneely was a four-time Class B state champion and three-time NCAA Division II title winner at the University of Nebraska at Omaha from 2007 to '09. He also redshirted during a three-semester stay at Iowa, but had never competed at Carver-Hawkeye Arena until Sunday.
The 28-year-old decided to begin preparing for freestyle last year and has spent time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The shoes flew into the stands. For Henry Cejudo, the move meant retirement.
A 2008 Olympic champion, Cejudo wrestled competitively for the last time Sunday afternoon. After winning his opening two matches at 55 kilos (121 pounds), the 26-year-old freestyler fell short in the semifinals to top-seeded Nick Simmons 3-0, 5-9, 5-2 before forfeiting the consolation bout.
As is customary for decorated wrestlers calling it quits, Cejudo sat to untie his shoes on the mat in front of a standing ovation after the semifinal. His own personal twist was to chuck the footwear into the crowd.
"I do it for the people," Cejudo said. "I'm not here to entertain anybody, really. I'm here to wrestle and to do it for the people. I could keep my shoes. I could even sell them on eBay. But it's not about that."
Also performing the goodbye ritual was 33-year-old women's freestyler Tina George. The world silver medalist in 2002 and '03 lost her only two matches at 63 kilos (138.75 pounds).
Jessica Fresh surprised a few people Sunday. As a 19-year-old woman who wrestles, she's used to that by now.
The lowest seed among 12 participants at 48 kilos (105.5 pounds), Fresh lost her first contest but bounced back to pin Joey Miller in 1:44 on the backside of the bracket. Her day ended when Emily Martin downed her 4-4, 3-1 in the consolation's third round.
Fresh enjoyed the biggest local following among her female counterparts. She graduated from Knoxville (Iowa) High School and attended college at Northern Iowa before transferring to Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, last semester.
Competing in front of 13,000-plus spectators was something Fresh said she won't soon forget. Especially since she knows many viewers had never seen a woman grapple before these Trials.
"I always love seeing women do stuff that isn't socially a norm," Fresh said. "I love seeing these girls go out and compete hard and do what they're doing."
Party of four
Making an Olympic Team can feel difficult for any wrestler. For female competitors, it is actually tougher.
Men's freestyle and Greco-Roman grapplers have seven available spots for each Olympic Games as well as world championships, which run three of every four years. Women also have seven weights to represent during the worlds, but only four during the Olympics.
Clarissa Chun (48 kilos) and Elena Pirozhkova (63 kilos) qualified Sunday night, joining Kelsey Campbell (55 kilos) and Stephany Lee (72 kilos) from Saturday.
Women's wrestling was contested in the 2004 and 2008 Games. Chun becomes the first woman to be on multiple U.S. Olympic teams after finishing fifth in 2008.
Sunday morning's Session III was the third straight to set a single-session record for attendance at a U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials. A total of 13,784 were present, besting Saturday night's 13,750 and the morning's 13,520. Sunday evening's attendance was 13,712, bringing the total weekend headcount to an all-session Trials record 54,766.
Previously, the 2000 Trials in Dallas held top single-session honors when 9,434 showed up.