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Penn State wrestling star reflects on gutsy path to Olympic Games

Zain Retherford is a first-time Olympian, but not without a monumental effort. The ex-Penn State wrestling star opened up this week about his gutsy path to Paris and his “lifelong endeavor” to reach the Olympics.



Penn State wrestling, Zain Retherford, 2024 Summer Olympics
Apr 20, 2024; State College, Pennsylvania, USA; Zain Retherford (left) wrestles Nick Lee (right) in a 65 kilograms second round and best of three finals match during the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials at Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Although Zain Retherford took the stage with the rest of the U.S. National Team at the Olympic Trials inside the Bryce Jordan Center in April, his work wasn’t yet finished. The three-time National Champion claimed victory in the Olympic Trials Championship at 65 kg, but with the Americans not qualifying at the weight, the former Penn State wrestling star was forced to travel to Turkey last week for one last chance to reach the 2024 Summer Olympics. What ensued was an epic sprint through Sunday’s consolation bracket that culminated in the ex-Nittany Lion reaching his first Olympic Games.

Speaking in one of his first interviews since returning Stateside this week, Zain Retherford reflected on his difficult test through the World Olympic Games Qualifier and his “lifelong endeavor” to become an Olympian.

Zain Retherford speaks on gutsy World Olympic Games Qualifier finish

With one final shot at reaching the 2024 Summer Olympics, Zain Retherford had his back against the wall after falling to Tulga Tumur-Ochir of Mongolia in the round of 16 at the World Olympic Games Qualifier last weekend in Istanbul, Turkey.

To keep his Olympic dreams alive, the former Penn State wrestling star had to battle back in Sunday’s repechage, winning an epic four matches in four hours to finish in third place in his weight class at the last chance tournament. By doing so, Retherford became the sixth final member of the U.S. men’s freestyle wrestling team.

After returning from Turkey earlier this week, Zain Retherford spoke with WBRE about the difficulty of wrestling in so many consecutive matches and the grind-it-out mentality it took to make it through the repechage.

“I knew I had a long road ahead, I couldn’t overlook anybody,” Retherford said. “Everyone that is there is the best wrestler in their nation. It was great competition, got a lot of reps in. [I took it] one match at a time, one score at a time…It [the Olympics] is a lifelong endeavor.”

Penn State wrestling and NLWC well represented in Paris

There will be multiple former Penn State wrestlers participating in the 2024 Summer Olympics. Zain Retherford and Aaron Brooks (86 kg) will both represent the NLWC and Penn State in addition to Team USA this summer. Roman Bravo-Young is another former Nittany Lion who will represent Team Mexico at 57 kg in Paris.

The NLWC will represent the U.S. in four of the six freestyler weight classes at the Olympic Games, with Kyle Dake (74 kg) and Kyle Snyder (97 kg) qualifying at April’s Trials in State College, as well. Including Bravo-Young, the NLWC will have a representative in five of the six freestyle weight classes.

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Former contributor at Nittany Central, Patrick joined Basic Blues Nation in 2023 as the Social Media Director, Penn State Wrestling beat writer, and producer of the Penn State Roar Room spaces. Patrick is also a contributor of Penn State football, basketball, and ice hockey news for the site.


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