She took a long break after the 2008 Olympics and eventually re-discovered why she loved the sport so much. It helped fuel her desire for greatness again and it led her back to the Olympic podium.
Huynh won bronze at the London Games in the 48-kilogram women's freestyle competition Wednesday with a victory over Isabelle Sambou of Senegal. The Calgary wrestler was beaming after the win just like she was when she won Olympic gold four years ago.
Getting past the post-Beijing valley was well worth it.
"I love the competition, I love being in control and feeling that I was really good at something," Huynh said of the sport. "And wrestling has definitely brought me that."
After her 2008 win, Huynh was tired and spent several months recovering from neck and knee injuries. Coach Paul Ragusa said she eventually came back rejuvenated and got a boost by getting more involved with coaching young kids.
"She started really enjoying what she was doing," he said. "By coaching, you start to see the things that you're not doing again and then that started to build her up and really revive her."
Huynh, 31, said she knew that she could handle the physical challenges of competing again at the top level.
"Overall I think it was more just my own belief that I could keep going, that I enjoy the sport," she said. "It took me a couple years to figure out that, 'Yeah, I really love this sport.'
After the win, she waved to the pockets of flag-waving Canadian fans in the sold-out ExCeL London North Arena 2 and raised her arms in the air once the bronze medal was placed around her neck.
A short time later, teammate Martine Dugrenier of Laval, Que., came up just short in her bid to reach the podium in the 63-kilo category.
She lost to Battsetseg Soronzonbold of Mongolia in the bronze medal bout. Soronzonbold stuffed Dugrenier's attacking attempts and outscored her in both rounds.
In Huynh's final match, she won tie-breaking clinches after each scoreless round. There was very little actual wrestling in the bout as the Canadian was forced to fight off Sambou's clutch-and-grab style.
"It was frustrating and I knew that she would probably come out with that kind of strategy with me," Huynh said. "I'm the kind of wrestler that is better with a lot more movement. So she wanted to shut me down, grab a hold of my hands and wrists.
"She did a good job of it and that's how it ended up."
Huynh lucked out by drawing the offensive position in both clinches and scored early on both occasions to take the rounds.
"I wanted to do it with a bit more flair and take it to her, but it didn't really get going," she said. "I felt really lucky to get both clinches. I'm so happy to win another medal for Canada."
The medal brought Canada's total at the Games to 14.
Earlier, Huynh missed out on a chance to wrestle for gold when she lost to Japan's Hitomi Obara in the semifinals.
Obara matched Huynh's speed and earned two points to win the first round. She had an early two-point lead in the second round but the Canadian halved it with about 30 seconds left.
Huynh desperately tried to score again to force a third round but came up short. She was on top of Obara in the last few seconds but couldn't turn her over.
"That match is still sitting with me," Ragusa said. "It's a tough match to swallow. That's a winnable match for us, an absolutely winnable match for us. Carol got caught high, was standing a little too straight up and the girl got underneath her."
Obara went on to defeat Mariya Stadnyk of Azerbaijan for the gold to add to her impressive resume. She has won six world titles at 51 kilograms — a non-Olympic weight — and took the last two world titles at 48 kilograms.
Huynh won gold at the Pan Am Games last fall and has reached the world championship podium on four occasions (one silver, three bronze). She said she has no plans to slow down now.
"At this point I'm going to keep going until I stop enjoying the sport and I'm really loving it right now," Huynh said.
Dugrenier, 33, has won six world championship medals (three gold, three silver) but all have come at the 67-kilogram level. She finished fifth in the 63-kilo category at the 2008 Games.
On Thursday, Tonya Verbeek of Thorold, Ont., will compete in the 55-kilo category and Leah Callahan of Calgary will wrestle in the 72-kilo draw.
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