SLAM!Sports
 


 SPORT INDEX
 

 Previous Olympics
 









COLUMNISTS

Sun, August 8, 2004

Now that's real girl power


Batting her chestnut brown eyes and flashing a cover-girl grin that reveals perfect teeth, Christine Nordhagen-Vierling makes a startling admission. "I don't like conflict," says the 33-year-old Calgary resident.

"I'm super-passive. I don't like to argue. I'm not a fighter. But on the mat ..."

It is there the photogenic product of tiny Valhalla Centre, Alta., (pop. 57, located

50 km outside Grande Prairie) morphs into a force that has seen her become the winningest female wrestler in the history of the sport.

A six-time world champ and 10-time national title holder, Nordhagen-Vierling will soon get her one and only chance to take possession of the only wrestling title she has yet to lay claim to -- Olympic gold.

A true pioneer of the only Olympic sport to make its debut in this year's five-ring circus, Nordhagen-Vierling is one of Canada's best medal hopes despite taking the 'mean' out of demeanour.

"Because I'm so not into conflict, maybe the mat is where I let it all out," laughs the part-time teacher from Ernest Manning high school.

"When I'm wrestling, I'm a bit mean at times. You have to be. I don't do anything illegal but there's 'the line.' Like when you've got to get someone's head down, you don't punch them but you give them a pretty good forearm. I don't have a problem with that."

Since she first dabbled in the sport

13 years ago at a six-week wrestling course at the U of A, Nordhagen-Vierling hasn't had much of a problem with anything, parlaying her curiosity into a wrestling odyssey that has not only taken her around the world but introduced her to her coach and eventual husband, Leigh Vierling, a former national team wrestler.

"Growing up, I loved wrestling around with friends. It was instinct," says Nordhagen-Vierling, who grew up on a farm.

"But there was no opportunity. I was surprised after the course, the instructor asked if I wanted to wrestle.

" 'Women don't wrestle.' That was my answer."

As it turned out, the first Canadian national female championships were being staged seven months later and she suddenly found herself training with purpose.

"I just happened to be in the right place at the right time," says Nordhagen-Vierling, who claimed the Canadian 68kg title that year, starting a streak that saw her go undefeated on Canadian soil for close to a decade.

Crediting life on the farm for teaching her the importance of might, Nordhagen-Vierling remembers having to lead a 1,400-lb. steer around a ring as part of her 4H experience as a 10-year-old.

"You get dragged around a corral or it smacks you into a fence but you just keep going," laughs the

5-ft. 7-in., 160-lb. wrestler, who grew up with four siblings.

"My parents weren't around to supervise, so you fended for yourself. You didn't take turns -- the strongest got their way."

That was evident one night in particular when an after-school dispute with her younger brother Colin turned into a memorable battle royale.

"He is two years younger but we were about the same size growing up, so we fought all the time," she says, laughing.

"We only had two channels and that night I think it was Three's Company and Wheel of Fortune. I didn't really care what we watched but I just didn't want him to have his way. He got to watch his show the day before, so it was my day.

"We had a battle in the living- room that lasted a half hour. Click, fight, fight, fight, click ... that was my first match."

Did she win?

"It was a tie," she laughs. "Actually, we both lost because neither one of us got to watch our show."

Losses have been few and far between for Nordhagen-Vierling -- that is, up until two years ago when a lifetime of bumps made the simple act of crouching an excruciating experience. Arthritic knees and a series of other ailments forced her to take 2002 off, making for a 2003 comeback that saw her face newfound adversity.

She lost more matches that year than she had her entire life.

Thinking back, if the IOC hadn't announced in 2001 women's wrestling would make its Olympic debut in Athens, she probably would have quit. Her career saved by a lubricant painfully injected under her kneecaps every four months, Nordhagen-Vierling is confident she can beat any of the 11 wrestlers in the 72kg competition. She's already beaten all of the opponents she has faced, including current world champ Kyoko Hamaguchi, who she recently defeated. Still, the pressure of competing at the Olympics has the even-keeled wrestler on an emotional roller-coaster.

"Usually, I'm super-positive and I'm trying my best but right now I have the worst attitude of my life ever -- this Olympic thing has been very challenging," says the second-oldest Olympic competitor in her sport.

"It's been really tough to believe in yourself. Sometimes I don't handle it well and start crying in the middle of practice because I want it so bad. It's been a struggle. My Olympic trials, I bawled uncontrollably. I've never done that before."

They were the same tears that flowed at the Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg as she watched her husband in the opening ceremonies.

"I was crying because I was so proud of him but I also felt a little sad because I wanted on opportunity to do that," says Nordhagen-Vierling, who will finally get her chance.

"This will be awesome. I can't imagine. I'll try to be tough about it but I don't think I'll be able to. I'm going to let it go and enjoy it all."

Don't let her looks or sensitivity fool you -- she's as tough as they come.

And she has no interest in arguing about it.


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

Results



CANOE home | We welcome your feedback.
Copyright © 2004, CANOE, a division of Canoe Inc. All rights reserved.