NEWS

Tonya Verbeek Wins Silver In Women's Wrestling At London Games

08/09/2012 09:10 EDT | Updated 10/09/2012 05:12 EDT
AP
LONDON - Canadian freestyle wrestler Tonya Verbeek had been in this situation before.

She wrestled for gold in her Olympic debut at the 2004 Games in Athens and was devastated when she came up short. While Verbeek settled for second place again in London, rarely has a silver medallist seemed so happy after a loss.

"I promised myself that leading in to this Olympics, that I'm going to give my everything and the result will take care of itself," Verbeek said. "You have to embrace that."

She seemed at peace as she walked to the mat for Thursday's final against Olympic champion Saori Yoshida, who has simply dominated the 55-kilogram division over the last decade.

Verbeek looked around the packed ExCeL London North Arena 2 venue as the crowd buzzed with excitement. This would be her final Olympic bout and win or lose, she was going to take in the moment.

"I really did feel good out there, I was enjoying it," she said. "I was soaking it all up. The stadium was incredible."

Yoshida had the backing of the pro-Japanese crowd and there was a roar when she scored a three-point takedown in the first round. She outscored Verbeek again in the second round to win her third straight Olympic title.

"This is the best place," Yoshida said. "I am happy to get the best result at the best place."

She celebrated with a backflip before slamming her coach to the mat in joy. Even in defeat, Verbeek's smile reappeared as she hugged her coaches and waved to the pockets of Canadian fans.

It was Canada's second women's freestyle wrestling medal of the Games after Calgary's Carol Huynh won bronze in the 48-kilo division on Wednesday.

Verbeek has yet to beat Yoshida in nine career meetings. The 29-year-old Japanese star has won the world title at 55 kilos nine of the last 10 years.

Canadian coach Marty Calder said they were prepared for the challenge and had no plans to surrender.

"I didn't think the Giants were going to win the Super Bowl this year either and neither did I think the L.A. Kings were going to win (the Stanley Cup)," Calder said. "We're competitors. We come here and we give it our best and we give ourselves hope."

Verbeek qualified for the final with an impressive victory over Jackeline Renteria Castillo of Colombia. She was confident entering the gold medal bout after pushing Yoshida the distance at last year's world championships.

"I think we were really ready and she stepped up," Calder said. "It came down to a couple takedowns. Sometimes you lose to people that may be better than you. You have to accept that I guess."

Verbeek and Yoshida spent the first minute of the opening round feeling each other out. Yoshida made her move with 20 seconds left, picking up the Canadian and bulldozing her with a takedown.

Yoshida went for another takedown attempt in the second round and scored a single point, a decision that was challenged by Verbeek's coach. The ruling stood and Yoshida went on to win the round and the match.

"I felt that they gave the point a little too fast, but that's sport," Verbeek said.

Unlike eight years ago, Verbeek wasn't upset after the loss. She put everything she had into her performance.

"That's just the way it goes," she said. "I felt like I wrestled my match and was strong out there. I'm happy to bring home a silver for Canada in women's wrestling, I really am."

The other Canadian in action on Thursday, Calgary's Leah Callahan, lost her opening bout in the 72-kilo division and was later eliminated.

Verbeek, from Thorold, Ont., started slow in her first matchup of the day before finding her rhythm en route to three straight victories.

"I broke free from the nerves," she said. "The second match I stepped on and I felt a lot more at ease and more natural. I've been doing this for 18 years so I should be able to know what I'm doing by now, right?

"So that's kind of the feeling I got and that momentum carried me forward to go for the gold."

She's not leaving the mat just yet. Verbeek, who turns 35 on Tuesday, still has the 2012 world championships coming up in a few weeks.

However, her work as an Olympian is now complete and she's very proud of the two silver medals and one bronze in her collection.

"I came out fighting right through the end," Verbeek said. "That's how I want to be remembered."

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