December 6, 2013 Updated: December 7, 2013 at 6:53 am
One by one, they left their boots on the mat, a traditional ritual of a competitor's retirement from the sport of amateur wrestling at the highest level.
Gradually, many former Olympic Training Center residents came back to the sport as coaches, and area high school wrestlers can't thank them enough.
"These guys could be doing so many other things," Pine Creek junior Dakota Colonese said. "They believe in us, and that makes us believe in ourselves. Having these top guys coaching us makes me work twice as hard."
Pine Creek has former Olympians Russ Davie and T.C. Dantzler on staff. On the west side of town, Ben Provisor, a 2012 Olympic team member, is assisting the Coronado staff. Woodland Park has Keith Sieracki, a two-time Olympic trials champion, leading a resurgence of the Panthers' program. Marcel Cooper, a two-time national champion, leads the Sierra squad.
"I had a good career as a competitor," said Keith Sieracki, whose brother, Aaron, last season served as an assistant at Palmer Ridge but now is focusing on the Bears' youth program. "I want to stay around and keep building this program, and make this something that'll be around a long time."
Sieracki, an Army veteran, isn't the only one giving back to the region's prep wrestling community.
Davie, an OTC resident from 2004-08, finished third to narrowly miss qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Games. In the meantime, he earned degrees in history and integrated social studies from Cleveland State, which he put to good use as a social studies teacher at Pine Creek.
He also puts his real-life lessons to work as an Eagles assistant wrestling coach.
"I always coached to give back," Davie said. "I want to pay it forward for all the great coaches I had. If we can get more of us to pay it forward, hopefully wrestling in southern Colorado can really emerge and be even stronger."
Longtime Coronado coach Matt Brickell learned that Provisor was interested in coaching high school, and now the Cougars have the part-time services of the Olympian wrestler.
"He has the interest of working with youth," said Brickell, speaking for Provisor, who is returning this weekend after competing in Finland and Russia. "I'm excited to get somebody in there to help. We're pretty young, so it'll be nice to have his influence."
Dantzler might relate to his Pine Creek team the best, although he's not one to brag about his Olympic credentials.
He wasn't always the best. Actually, it took a dozen years for the Illinois native to finally reach the top. It's that humility that he'd rather convey to his students.
"I never won state," said Dantzler, who made his Olympics debut in 2008, 12 years after competing at his first national tournament. "That's my claim to fame. It's not what you did. It's what you're doing now. That's the big part of this sport. I love doing what I do. To give back to youth wrestling, that's what it's all about."