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Former pacific wrestler chases olympic glory

U.S. Olympian Kelsey Campbell cut her teeth on the women's wrestling team at nearby Pacific University


Kelsey Campbell has come a long way in six years.

Well before Campbell wrestled in the 2012 Olympic Games last week, her journey to London made a stop in, of all places, Forest Grove, where Campbell wrestled for Pacific University during the 2005-06 season.

Campbell’s career was relatively nascent then, during her time with the Boxers. The 27-year-old Milwaukie native, after lettering in several other sports for the Mustangs, took up wrestling only in her senior year of high school. (She graduated from Milwaukie High in 2003.) As has been chronicled by media outlets such as ESPN and The Oregonian, it was a bet with friends that led to her participation in the sport.

And, oh, the places she has gone since then. But first came the year in Forest Grove.

“She was a gal that we had our eyes on because she was from Portland,” said Scott Miller, the former Pacific head coach who was Campbell’s coach that season. “So we got to watch her closely, and we recruited her right off the bat.”

After that year, Campbell transferred to Arizona State University. Miller, who now lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, said that Campbell left for Arizona to help start a church there.

Campbell’s star began to rise at Arizona State, where she won two women’s collegiate titles — the first one back in Forest Grove. Then she made world championship teams, and in April, she knocked off Helen Maroulis — an opponent she had never beaten prior to the trials — in a best-of-three series in the freestyle 55-kilogram weight class to qualify for London.

“She’s just one of those gals that just really keeps plugging away,” Miller said of Campbell.

According to Miller, though, she also has physical gifts.

“She’s deceptively strong. She grabs ahold of you, and you’re not going to get away from her,” he explained. “And she’s got good quickness. Those are the two things that we really like. And then the other thing that I really look for is the kind of footwork somebody has. If somebody has good footwork, they’re going to have good body position. And she really had good footwork.

“She holds positions, and what she does really well is she counterattacks, at least when we had her and when she won her nationals. She’s really good at counterattacking, taking advantage. If somebody takes a shot on her, she defends real well, and then she hits her shot.”

At the Olympic Games, Campbell had to wait to compete all the way until Aug. 9, Day 14 of the Olympics. She had the misfortune of drawing Japan’s Saori Yoshida, a competitor with two Olympic gold medals already to her name, in the round of 16. Campbell lost a 1-0, 1-0 decision to Yoshida, who went on to win another Olympic gold medal that day.

In the consolation rounds, Campbell concluded her Olympic competition with a 4-1, 1-0 loss to eventual bronze medalist Yuliya Ratkevich of Azerbaijan.

Miller, who now works in the mental health field, was not able to watch Campbell’s Olympic matches, though he said he did track her results by computer. He mentioned the role experience plays in competing at the Olympics. Campbell does possess that experience now, if she decides to make a push for the 2016 Olympic Games, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro.

“I don’t know whether she’s planned on doing that for another four years,” Miller said of Campbell’s wrestling career. “I know it takes a real toll, but she’s still young and still certainly capable of going back in four years if that’s what she chooses to do.”

Miller is a proud former coach either way.

“She’s just really down to earth, real kind person,” Miller said of his former pupil. “And so it’s really fun to see somebody like that doing well.”




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