August 16, 2008
BEIJING • An unfamiliar grimace shot across Clarissa Chun's face as Canadian Carol Huynh flashed her Olympic gold medal on the podium.
"I was going to kiss the medal if I got that gold," Chun said. "Everyone bites it. I was going to make out with mine."
The Olympic Training Center wrestler never got the chance Saturday at the Beijing Games, pinned by Ukrainian Irini Merleni in the bronze-medal match of the 105.5-pound women's freestyle division.
Chun, 26, was overpowered against Merleni, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion, after a 2-1, 4-1 victory over Sweden's Sofia Mattsson, a 6-1, 2-1 win over France's Vanessa Boubryemm and a 1-0, 0-3, 1-1 loss to Japan's Chiharu Icho.
She bemoaned technical mistakes in the second Olympic women's wrestling tournament, won by Huynh, with Icho the silver medalist and Merleni and Azerbaijan's Mariya Stadnik taking bronzes.
"I feel like I could have done more," said Chun, her red eyes again welling with tears. "I feel like I didn't lay it all out there completely. I felt like I tried. But when I tried, I was like one step behind."
Merleni controlled the tempo with a low stance and quick hands, yelling from the moment she stepped on the mat in what Chun called an intimidation tactic.
It might have worked.
The first Hawaiian to make an Olympic wrestling team, Chun fell into a headlock 34 seconds into the first period when an attempted arm throw went bad, then Merleni went ahead 2-0 by turning an arm spin into a takedown.
In the second, Merleni grabbed a 1-0 lead on a takedown in the opening 15 seconds before Chun drew even with an arm throw. Merleni fired back, putting Chun on her back and holding her with 54 seconds left.
"I don't even know what happened," Chun said of the pin. "I went back, and I was like, ‘What happened? How did I get there?' I didn't even know. I didn't even know how much time I had left. I can't explain it. I wish I knew."
USA Wrestling national women's coach Terry Steiner maintains Chun hasn't changed since the U.S. Olympic trials, where she upset OTC resident Patricia Miranda, a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist.
"She's the same kind of wrestler, but we didn't wrestle the same kind of match that we did at the trials," said Steiner, adding he's unsure if Chun will retire. "Once they win the first period, you've got to get out and make things happen. We forced a headlock in the first period. We can't give up a point like that."
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