Published: February 1, 2014
Nobody knows the whole reason Randi Miller left women's wrestling after winning the bronze medal in the 2008 Olympic Games. She was quick, strong, and mentally hungry - and had endless potential ahead of her.
But she left the sport anyway, and still won't go into the reasoning behind it.
Saturday, however, she was back.
After a five-year hiatus, Miller returned to the mat at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, and overcame a deficit in both the semifinals and finals to win the women's freestyle at 69 kg (152 pounds) in the final day of the Dave Schultz Memorial.
"She's really rusty, but that fight in her is still unbelievable," her coach, Shon Lewis said with a smirk.
No, it wasn't always a thing of beauty, and for a while Lewis was even anxious to see if Miller would wear down in only her second wrestling tournament in five years (she wrestled in a tournament in New York about four months ago).
But, she only got tougher.
After breezing to two technical fall decisions in her first two matches, the 30-year-old went down 10-1 to China's Feng Zhou, a 2012 junior world champion, with only two minutes left in the second period.
At that point, she said she was fueled by the cheers coming from her Army buddies in the stands.
"I just got even hungrier when I heard them supporting me. So I fought with everything I had," said Miller, who returned to the sport after feeling what she called a similar emotion while watching the 2012 Olympics on TV.
"I know I'm not all there with most of my wrestling moves and techniques yet, but I think I showed my mental ability is still very strong."
And to the delight of the crowd, Miller grabbed a quick takedown to cut the lead to 10-3, then another and another. And by the time the clock expired two minutes later, Miller had rattled off 11 points to win 12-10 and clinch a berth into the finals.
"I'm not just back to win here, but this felt good," said Miller, who later overcame an iffy call in the finals and went down 1-0 in the first period, only to rally and score on two pushouts against world champion Elena Pirozhkova of Colorado Springs to take the championship in a 2-1 decision.
"I do wish I had returned earlier, but I have a lot left in the tank. . I'm not interested in being the person I was. I want to be better than that. I want to be better than the bronze medalist I was in 2008."
Afterward, Miller stayed relatively calm for not only topping her weight class Saturday, but topping the whole field as she was named the tournament's most outstanding wrestler.
Her camp, however, repeated on point, "It's only the start."
"She didn't come back to win this tournament. It's nice, but that's not why she's back," Lewis said.
"She came back to win the gold in Brazil, nothing less."