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Olympic Trials: Zadick to wrestle at 33 years old

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | APRIL 16, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa wrestling assistant coach Mike Zadick sits on the bleachers with a dozen college wrestlers. He's dressed the same, with a hoodie tucked into his sweatpants. He's laughing at the same jokes, poking fun at the same people. He's lacing up the same wrestling shoes. He'll get on the same mat and wrestle the same practice routine.

The only difference between Zadick and his team is that he's been wrestling for as long as some of the youngsters have been alive. He's 33, the oldest wrestler to compete at the 60-kilogram weight class at the U.S. Olympic trials this weekend.

"I feel real good — I actually feel great," Zadick said. "It's a different type of training: smarter. You can't run yourself through walls at 33 like you could when you were 22, but the smarter factor and the age has helped me."

Zadick sits next to sophomore Tony Ramos before practice. He gives redshirt freshman Mike Evans a playful push on the shoulder. He's wrestling in the same tournament as junior Matt McDonough this weekend. He's one of the guys.

And yet, he's more.

Zadick is the coach in the corner who can't stay sitting down. He screams the entire match, jumping up at the slightest action, shooting his arms in the air with every takedown, every shot, every movement from the kid in the Hawkeye singlet.

Junior Grant Gambrall fell victim to a controversial call at the NCAA championships that robbed him of a match-winning takedown against UNI's Ryan Loder in the final seconds of his first-round match. Zadick was on his feet in a second, following the referee around the mat, demanding he reverse the call.

Zadick was given a team warning for "questioning the official," but the rest of the Hawkeyes shrugged off the outburst. That's just Zadick, they said.

The coach will trade his dress slacks and tie for a singlet on the mats of Carver-Hawkeye Arena this weekend. He's continuing the embrace the dichotomy between athlete and coach that has become his life.

"I'm a coach first," Zadick said. "… But I'm selfish when it comes to this time. Wrestling, it's me right now, with my training and my readiness."

But Zadick continues to blur the line between coach and athlete, using his entire career — even his Olympic Trials berth — as a coaching tool.

"You take a lot from coaching; that emotion that you want to see the athlete have, you remember that," Zadick said. "Now that I look at it as a coach, I want to step on the mat and be an example … so when they're watching me, they can say, 'OK, I see how it's done.' "

Zadick has spent the season in a dual coach-athlete role. He's a teacher, impassioned to "better every individual and every athlete in the program." But he's also an athlete that has been training to keep his 33-year-old body ready to wrestle 20-somethings at the Trials.

"He's has the most battle-ready attitude," Evans said. "If he's not working out in the room, pushing our guys every day in practice, he's in there alone, doing what he needs to do. You've got to be really hungry to be that age and still compete at that level."

Evans said Zadick "whoops up" on every collegiate wrestler he faces in practice. The only chance he has of losing to one of the Iowa wrestlers is to be outweighed, and even then, Zadick has a little more fight in him than anyone would expect from someone 10 years out of college.

"It's definitely not something that I've experienced before, wrestling alongside a coach of mine," said McDonough, who earned a wildcard berth for the tournament following his second NCAA title in March. "But we have some pretty close bonds, as far as our competitive nature and the mindset that we take in to the wrestling match."

A passionate outdoorsman, Zadick shares his love of hunting and fishing with his athletes. He invites them to his home; he lets them work in the yard, chop wood, and hang out.

"Zadick is a brother to everyone on the team," Evans said. "When we're not in the room, he's still a mentor, showing us good lifestyle decisions. Going to his house is like a different kind of training."

But Ramos said Zadick is most influential because the personal bond with his wrestlers lets them witness his hunger for an Olympic gold medal.

Zadick started wrestling when he was five years old, and decided then that he was going to win an Olympic gold. His résumé is full of other honors — he won the 2008 Olympic Trials and a Senior National title in 2009. He earned silver medals at the 2006 World Championships and 2007 Pan American Games. He's already an Olympian, as he made it to the quarterfinals in Beijing.

But no gold. Not yet. And that's why he's still wrestling.

"If I was not confident in my motivation, I'd probably say, 'All right Zadick, you're 33. Let's go to that next phase of life," he said. "But I'm not. I'm actually feeling great where I am competitively right now. Let's go get the job done that I set out to do when I was a young kid."

And this is what makes Zadick the coach he is. The Hawkeye wrestlers see the fire in Zadick's eyes, and realize he's a guy who has everything figured out — he's the example of who they want to be, on and off the mat.

"We follow in our coaches' footsteps and we watch what they do," Ramos said. "We look at what they've done to set our bars, but in Zadick's case we get to look at what he's still doing. We want what he's got.

"Watching Zadick in this tournament will make guys just be dying to get into this room and do what Zadick's doing — not even just making the Olympic team, but just going out there and fighting to get his dreams."

Follow DI wrestling reporter Molly Irene Olmstead on Twitter.


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