June 18, 2008
Two-time National Champion Ben Askren met with members of the media upon his return to Columbia after earning a spot on the USA Wrestling Olympic Team. Askren will compete in the 74 kg weight class in his first Olympic appearance.
On choosing his goal of making the Olympics:
"The decision I had to make was a tough one because there were a lot of different things I would've liked to have done at that point in time and I knew I had to choose one. If I chose multiple I wouldn't be as successful or as happy doing all of them. So I chose one, stuck with it and it paid off."
On the difference between College and Olympic Wrestling styles:
"What they call the funk in college, I had to take that all out. Scrapped it, threw it out. Then I had to learn. It took a lot of time to learn and that's why my first few months were so tough because I was learning. I wasn't where I needed to be yet, I was learning, it was all a process. And then, about sometime later last fall, November, December, everything came together for me and I started figuring it out."
On relearning to wrestle for Freestyle:
"I had to relearn some areas, but wrestling is wrestling to me. I had to relearn certain areas to make myself as good as I wanted to be."
On competing against some of his favorite wrestlers to watch growing up:
"(Buvaisar) Saitiev, who is a six-time world champ and two-time Olympic champ, is also one of my favorite wrestlers to watch. He will be in my weight class in Beijing. He's always a threat. Then you've got a lot of other guys that are threats too. You've got (Ibrahim) Aldatov from Ukraine and (Ivan) Fundora from Cuba. Those are probably the top three guys. But I think all of them can compete. I talked with Coach Scott in February with the plan of, as soon as I make the team, I've got to get ready for those guys."
On approaching an opponent with two gold medals:
"The tough thing about Saitiev is he's so diverse it's hard to approach him. I can do anything. I can shoot, headlock, I can turn on top and bottom. So it's hard to plan for someone like me. It's hard to plan for someone like him because he's so diverse. Coach has been watching and said he's got some obvious flaws and we're going to try to exploit those."
On selecting the 2008 games instead of 2012:
"If anyone would have said that (it was more realistic to prepare for 2012) I would have laughed in their face and said, `Yeah right, I'm making it in 2008.' But a lot of people thought that, and that was never on my mind. You can't plan six years ahead. That would be like giving up on these games, and I wasn't ready to give up. I'm never ready to give up. I knew I had plenty of time. I had 15 months between the time I was finished with folkstyle wrestling and these trials. I knew that there was plenty of time to adapt and change."
On taking time off before the games:
"I banged up my ankle in my first match. My rib popped out of my back in my second match. And then, my third match I hurt my chest. So, as soon as I heal up I'm going to get back out there."
On when being an Olympian sunk in:
"It really sunk in yesterday. I was coming back and Coach Smith said I want you to come in and speak to the kids about how I got from point A to point B. From the first day I started wrestling to now when I'm an Olympian. I don't really like talking about myself in front of a bunch of kids and it's kind of hard to do. Then I started thinking this is a lifelong dream. I'm an Olympian, and it hit me. This is two times a day working out, for 9, 10, 11, 12 years now. Grinding injuries, everything and it just hit me. I started bawling in my car. Everything hit me and it was like, wow this is a lifelong dream and it's here now.
I enjoyed it the night before. I had so many good friends, family and support out in Vegas. And last week, before the tournament, I rented out a room for 40 people to celebrate afterwards. Kind of calling my shot, but I didn't tell anyone until the day of. And then we went over there and had a big celebration all my friends were there, we had a blast."
On his new T-shirts:
"It's a Chinese flag and it's got my profile on one side and it says, `Putting the Chin in China.' I gave them out to all my friends and family that came to Vegas. I had by far the rowdiest crowd at the whole tournament. They actually banned anyone wearing a `Chin in China' shirt from buying alcohol because they were that rowdy."
On realizing the Olympics was something he wanted to pursue:
"When I went to the Olympic trials in 2000 in Dallas, that's when it really dawned on me. Actually when I went to the first high school state tournament and would see people win, I said, I want to do that. When I went to Fargo, (N.D.) which is the Junior Nationals for high school kids I said, I want to win that. Then I went to the Olympic Trials and that's when I was like, okay, this is what I really want to do when I finish it all."
On bandwagon fans:
"I'm kind of a love it or hate it kind of guy. There's a lot of people that don't like my very forward, outspoken manner. After backing it up for about the 12th time in a row, people are starting to say `wow, I guess he is going to back up everything he says he's going to do.'"
On being an underdog in the Olympics:
"I agree, I shouldn't be considered a favorite by any means. You've got a guy that's won six world titles and two Olympic titles. He should be the favorite. You've got another guy that's won a world title in 2006, he should be another favorite. And what have I done? I haven't done anything. So I'm going to prove myself and I know that and I accept the role of the underdog, and that's just fine with me. I'll go take care of business."
On being back in Columbia:
"I love Columbia, this is like home to me now with all the close friends I have here so it was great to come back and see everyone yesterday. They were happy for me, of course, and most of these guys are part of the reason I got there. I've got great training partners in Columbia, Missouri that I work out with all the time. That's a big reason why I am where I'm at. It was nice to be able to share that with them and come back. Of course I love Columbia and the Mizzou Tigers, so it's good to be back."
On his gimmicks:
"Who knows. I actually don't really like my hair that much, but I'm a man of realism and I realize that people like gimmicks. I'm going to Beijing and my hair's going to be my gimmick. Hopefully, I'll get a sponsorship or two, maybe get some money out of having stupid, curly hair."
On his opponent (Tyrone Lewis) at the Olympic trials:
"Honestly, I'd like to get inside his head because I don't know what he was thinking. I braided my hair up so he couldn't pull my hair and he was pulling my cornrows out. It's against the rules but the ref didn't call it so what am I going to do? I'm not the ref, I'm just here to wrestle and win. I think he was trying to get me shook, and I'm not going to get shook."
On his training schedule for Beijing:
"What I need to do to make me successful now is not going to change (from the Trials). I'm going to do the same thing. I'll have to take a couple days off. I've got these injuries. But after I get healed up from this, I'll start training again. We've got some USA team training camps that we have to attend. I'll bring some of the guys that I train with out there and we'll get to work."
On plans after the Olympics:
"I was going to do just that (Ultimate Fighting), not wrestle but I can't give up wrestling. I don't know why. I don't really want to do it anymore, but then again, I love it so much I can't give it up and I'm good at it too, which makes it even harder to give up. So I'm probably going to fight and I'm going to wrestle. So you'll probably see me in an Octagon somewhere in 2009."
On his predictions for Beijing:
"I predicted a Gold about 16 months ago and I'm not going to go back on that prediction, so we'll stick with that one."
Quotes from Missouri Head Coach Brian Smith
On his reaction to Askren winning the trials:
"Ben believed in himself that he was going to do this. It didn't surprise when he won. He expected it and he's expecting to win the gold."
On being at wrestling camp during the trials:
"We had reports coming in during the session. Every period that he was winning we were announcing it and when he won we told the camp. We all stopped and everybody went crazy."
"The neat thing was that 24 hours later, I talked to the kids and said a great thing happened for the program 24 hours ago. A great thing happened for a person who has worked hard and believed in himself enough, and the first group he's going to talk to is you. And he walked through the garage and had a big standing ovation."
"He spoke to kids about how he got from point A, the first day he stepped on the mat, to where he is now, and how he did that."
On Askren's progression:
"I never doubt Ben. He came in and in his true freshman year he was going 1-2, winning one after losing two, and not placing at a few major tournaments and yet he would get back in the room and he'd work and he'd work. It's just amazing how he progressed from his first year to his second year, then his second year to his third year. I said, he's got one year to evolve and it's going to be scary where he's going to be at. And part of that is his confidence. He backs it because he's in that room every day."
"You just saw him progress and progress and he does it quickly. He is a talented kid."
"He is definitely something special. You guys saw that in collegiate wrestling. How he advanced from his freshman year to where he was dominating a lot and he was just the man in the sport of college wrestling."
On his emotions after hearing Askren won:
"I told him, no one deserves it more than you. It's very emotional, it's awesome. I got on the phone with boosters today and said I've got to get to China. I don't want to miss this."
On Ben's Goals:
"It (Ben's goals) was always an Olympic championship. He told me from day one, `my goals are to win National Titles and to be an Olympian.' He's always told me that."
On comparing Ben to Muhammad Ali:
"I used to send him Muhammad Ali quotes. He really is a chip off of Muhammad Ali. He's the same way, he's able to adapt to the style he adapted to freestyle and now he's dominating. Now we've got to get him to dominate in the world."
On what this does for the program:
"The great thing is I told him when I was recruiting him there's a lot of programs that will tell you that you can't win a national title at Missouri. I said, you come and be the first. You come be the first and change that mindset. And then when he was training here people said you can't make the Olympic team. And now he's going to go win a gold. Now I can go to recruits and say we've got an Olympian training, and hopefully, a gold medalist training here."
"Now we've got other guys, (Nicholas) Marable, Raymond Jordan, all those guys have aspirations of making the next Olympics. So now that we have that first national champ, kids in the program think wow, I can do that too."
"Now we've got everything, except a gold medal. And that's the next step."