Follow the Pac-12 to Rio: Pac-12 Networks Wrestling
It’s time to follow the Pac-12 to Rio! Leading into the 2016 Olympic games, Pac-12 Networks Insider will profile its on-air talent with Olympic ties. Whether they’re broadcasters, competitors or have accomplished both feats, we have you covered.
This week, Pac-12 Networks Insider features Pac-12 wrestling analyst, 3-time NCAA All-American, and member of the 1988 summer Olympics team, Ken Chertow.
Three tournaments, six weeks, twenty one matches, and an established Olympian stood in the way. For Ken Chertow, this was the road he faced in order to achieve Olympic status in 1988 and cash his ticket to Seoul, South Korea.
Chertow, an All-American at Penn State, was still in college and just 21 years old when he had the opportunity of a lifetime. He recalls the preparation was not short term.
“It was really a decade commitment. I grew up in West Virginia, so I did not come from a wrestling culture. I was self-motivated and worked very hard. I made a year-round commitment when I was twelve years old. I just kept working to get better and improved steadily.”
Chertow battled his way through the process and into the finals of Olympic qualifying to go up against a wrestler he had admired for years.
“[Joe Gonzales] was a prominent figure in wrestling. He was the number one ranked guy, a two-time NCAA champion and had been an Olympian before. He was the big fish.”
To prep for the finals, Chertow spent time in Colorado at the Olympic Training Center, training at altitude, and studied video of his opponent for hours to get an edge.
“The preparation was intense. I’m a big student of the sport, and a lot of it was technique and tactics. I was a solid athlete but not real fast, I had to really learn proper position and technique. I was well-prepared; there was a lot of video available because he was a superstar. It worked out to my advantage. Beating him was definitely the most memorable part of that process, beating an Olympian who I looked up to. It was a huge accomplishment and was exciting.”
Chertow was familiar with Seoul, having visited the previous year with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, but it was the athletes in other sports surrounding him who made the experience.
“It was the memory of a lifetime. I was among some superstar athletes. Probably the star of that Olympic Games was Janet Evans in swimming with three gold medals. The boxers did really well, we were housed with them. It was the Olympics Greg Louganis got famous in. My training partner, John Smith won the Olympic gold. It was great to be there where he won his first gold medal, and then he won again in ’92. It was a great experience. It was all positive.”
Chertow lost to a six-time world champion from Bulgaria in ’88 and would be an alternate on the ’92 squad after being beat by eventual gold medalist and fellow American, Kendall Cross. Chertow’s individual performances during his Olympic experiences fell short of his goals, he says, even against world-class competition. He encourages athletes to enjoy the experience and take it all in.
“Stay relaxed, don’t try to isolate yourself or feel too tense. Just have fun with it, go out there and perform at your very highest level of ability. Wrestling was on the back end of the Olympics and we’re a weight controlled sport, so you got to be really careful. I was working out every day, watching my weight. I was reluctant to be too much of a tourist or a fan, and I’m a huge sports fan!”
Now an expert analyst at Pac-12 Networks, Chertow’s insight and knowledge of the sport is on display for the masses.
“Well two of the best wrestlers in the world going into these Olympics are Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder of the U.S. They are so fun to watch, they were world champions in 2015 and they’re dynamic in freestyle.”
Greco-Roman style wrestler Jesse Thielke, and gold medalist from the 2015 World Wrestling Championships, Helen Maroulis were both students at Chertow’s camps and will also be competing in Rio this summer.
“Thielke is the most up and coming wrestler. He’s very creative, in the lightest weight class, and very unorthodox. He’s exciting to watch. And Maroulis in the women’s 112-pound weight class, she’s so aggressive and physical. If I had to pick out four people to watch in Rio for America, that’s who I would pick.”
Chertow says the future is bright for Pac-12 wrestling. He is looking forward to seeing Pac-12 Wrestler of the Year, Amarveer Dhesi of Oregon State, and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Joey McKenna of Stanford, possibly compete for Olympic gold in 2020.
“Dhesi just missed making the Canadian Olympic team by tie breaker criteria in the Canadian Olympic trials. He could be a front runner to not only make the Canadian Olympic team four years from now but compete for a medal. McKenna, obviously a superstar as a freshman, has won a junior world championship already, so he will be another Pac-12 wrestler who’s in the hunt for 2020. Those guys are the real deal. And that’s exciting for Pac-12 wrestling.”
Commitment and dedication continue to run theme throughout Chertow’s career. It’s what earned him a scholarship to Penn State University, where he would go on to achieve All-American honors three times and be named an Academic All-American three times. It’s also evident in his commitment to the youth, a staple in the Ken Chertow Wrestling Camps, dating back to the summer camps he conducted in college.
“I’m fortunate to be able to coach many young people to be successful in our sport. My goal is to help them develop a diverse skill set, perfect their fundamentals, and earn college scholarships.”
Although Chertow made the transition from the mat to TV analyst, the coach at heart is still committed to teaching.
“I really enjoy commentary and I love college wrestling; I’m engrossed in the study of college wrestling. I often share with my athletes what I call ‘rise to the occasion when it matters most’. It’s like LeBron James during the Finals. He’s so mentally tough and really steps up. And that’s the kind of performance you have to have at the Olympics. The great athletes are the ones who can step it up when it matters most.”
Stay tuned for our next feature on track and field announcer Lewis Johnson, Tom Feuer, and Dwight Stones coming up next week.
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