Crying for ChristineTears are shed as Valhalla girl wrestles her way towards Athens
By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
There's no cryin' in rasslin'. Well, now that they have women's wrestling in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, apparently there is.
And dang near everybody who was part of the hanging-from-the-rafters crowd for the Canadian Olympic Trials at Millennium Place in Sherwood Park had at least a lump in their throat for Christine Nordhagen.
It's always something special to experience the moment when an athlete becomes an Olympian for the first time. On occasion my eyes get weary of watching multimillionaire hockey players bore me to tears sucking the life out of a game I used to love. But I never tire of watching Canada's best when four years of work comes down to a twist, a turn, an inch or a blink. Even if it's wrestling, a sport that's very hard to love.
But Nordhagen made it better than usual.
Nordhagen is the 32-year-old six-time world champion, the winningest woman in the history of women's wrestling. From Valhalla Centre, 50 km west of Grande Prairie, she's long been the toast of the town of 50 ("including dogs and cats''), where only the dogs and cats were in residence yesterday because everybody else was here.
The gal grappler started the day crying. And it ended that way when she finally put Onenewa Akuffo of Guelph, Ont., away to manufacture her Olympic moment.
"I've never cried at a tournament before, ever,'' she said when it was over and she'd recovered from a 7-1 loss in the first match to score 12-3 and 6-1 wins to seize her Olympic moment.
"I woke up bawling. There was so much anxiety. I cried two other times today. I couldn't stop myself. It's my final year. There is no next year. There's never been an Olympics for me until now and there won't be an Olympics for me after this.
"Then when I lost the first bout, I thought, 'This is it, I'm done.' ''
Either a good coaching job or a good tough-love bit of husbanding saved the day.
"My coach, who is also my husband, did a good job talking to me,'' she said.
Nordhagen doesn't go direct to Athens. She will have to secure a spot by finishing in the top three of one of the two remaining qualifying tournaments. But she believes it'll be a slam dunk for not only herself but the other Canadian women to make it to the Olympics in all four women's weight classes and that "each of us will have a chance to medal.''
And that's when she started crying again.
"This is going to be the best ending,'' she sobbed.
But Nordhagen wasn't the only emotional athlete on the property.
Evan MacDonald and Viola Yanik ranked right up there with her. They're the two who do go directly to Athens.
Both pre-qualified for Canada at the world championships. But that's where it got heavy.
"I've been sleeping, tops, for two hours a night for the past couple of months because of the idea that someone could come here and win two matches and take away the Olympic spot I earned.
"As far as I was concerned that was my spot and nobody was going to take it away from me,'' said the 66-kg competitor from Ottawa.
"This is all I've thought about for the last four years. Sometimes you wonder if it's worth it, but right now I can tell you it sure is.''
Yanik, from Saskatoon, had to go to a rubber match against Tara Hedican of Guelph to win the spot she'd already won in the 63-kg women's event.
"I qualified Canada for the Olympics, but I came here telling myself it was going to be no better than 50-50 that it was going to be me getting to the Olympics.
"It's really hard to deal with. You have everything to lose. But now it's mine and nobody can take it away. It's my dream come true. I've been watching the Olympics since I was a little girl. I knew I was going to get to the Olympics, I just didn't know what sport it would be in until I got to about Grade 9.''
Zoltan Hunyady won a 74-kg match but must face injured Sydney 2000 gold medal winner Daniel Igali in a wrestle-off.
Atlanta 1996 Olympic silver medal winner Gia Sissaouri won his class but not in the usual breeze.
"I'm getting challenged now,'' he said of the competition. "It means Canada is getting better. Sooner or later somebody is going to replace me.''
Jennifer Ryz and Lindsay Belisle of Burnaby, B.C. won the other two women's spots with men's titles copped by Dean Schmeichel of Calgary and Mikheil Japaridze of Montreal.
WEATHERS OR NOT
That left Wayne Weathers.
The Toronto Argos defensive lineman ended up against Edmonton's Colbie Bell and won the heavyweight title 6-0 and 8-5 to set the stage for Olympic controversy.
It was Weathers' fourth Canadian title but only once, at the Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg when he was conveniently a Winnipeg Blue Bomber at the time, did he wrestle for his country.
"I know the organizers didn't want me to win it, but I don't lose to other Canadian wrestlers on Canadian soil.''
But while Weathers and his coach were both expecting another empty win, with Canadian officials telling them that until he could guarantee he wouldn't miss training camps while he played football, he wouldn't get the spot, it didn't work that way.
"I don't see any reason he can't go and qualify for Canada,'' said Mike Payette of the Canadian Amateur Wrestling Association.
"I see no reason why he can't do that first and worry about the rest later. His international experience is so limited, it might be a huge advantage for him.''
That suddenly enlightened stand might even make Weathers' eyes wet.