BURNABY — This past August, Mallory Velte got a chance to experience the kind of atmosphere that every wrestler dreams of when she packed her bags for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Yet as eye-opening as it all was for the Simon Fraser junior, her role as the training partner for Clan teammate and Canadian team standout Danielle Lappage cast her in the role of an understudy.
Now, as a new quadrennial begins, the Velte is setting her sights on becoming a leading lady oh her own by the time the Tokyo Olympics roll around in 2020.
Match by match, the Sacramento native who ventured north to study under the tutelage of legendary Clan head coach Mike Jones, has climbed in grappling pedigree, and this weekend Velte will look to put another notch in her wrestling belt when she returns to the Women’s Collegiate Wresting Association Championships (WCWA) in Oklahoma City as a defending champion.
“Going to the Olympics was a great experience,” said Velte on Tuesday, noting that former Clan star Helen Maroulis, who in Rio became the first U.S. woman to win a gold medal in freestyle wrestling, also previously served an Olympic Games apprenticeship as a training partner.
“I know it’s a path that great wrestlers have taken,” continued Velte. “I spent the summer working for Danielle, for her to get better. What made it easier is that she and I have a great dynamic. And I think it definitely has me better prepared to be more in my element, but it’s really hard being a training partner.”
For the uninitiated, training partners endure all of the physical toll of practices and more, because with their own ego left on the sidelines, they must tailor their physicality to only those areas which benefit the actual competitor.
The football equivalent?
Try the title character in the movie Rudy, who takes a beating as a scout team middle linebacker to help the Fighting Irish get ready for their next game.
“You get to be around what is necessary to prepare for a major games, like the Olympics,” begins Jones. “But it’s one of the hardest things in our sport because everybody is focused on the other wrestler. No one is rooting for you. They are correcting and urging the other wrestler. It’s a mentally hard thing. And after a while you just say ‘What the hell am I? Chopped liver?’”
Yup, a real character builder, not that Velte has been shy of collecting a series of incredible results over the past couple of years which have her steeled and ready to make her big push on the international stage.
Last February, she won her first WCWA national title at 143 pounds, helping the Clan to third place in the team standings and punching her own ticket to the U.S. Olympic Trials.
In late March, she finished first at 63 kilos at the USA Women’s University Nationals.
And in April, Velte finished third at those U.S. Olympic Trials (63 kilos), missing out on a spot to the Olympics but showing that she is on track for an even stronger showing in 2020.
And a sidenote to her experience in Rio?
“Once my national team coach knew I was going to be there, I was registered as an alternate for the U.S.,” Velte explained. “That made it even harder training for Danielle, knowing that I could also end up wrestling.”
But things are unfolding well enough that Velte isn’t complaining about a thing.
Simon Fraser’s global reputation as a blue-chip collegiate wrestling power has only been enhanced by the fact that both Carol Huynh and Maroulis have gone on to win Olympic wrestling gold as Clan alumna.
And it is precisely that which drew Velte north to Burnaby Mountain.
“I know that I am in the best training facility for my emotional, social and training needs,” says Velte, a psychology major with minors in both early learning and kinesiology. “I know I am on the right track and if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here. And I know I have the best coach in North America, if not the world. I know on paper Mike Jones is retiring, but he’s not going anywhere. I have one more year of eligibility and I am thinking of staying so I can keep training.”
Velte, one of the few members of the U.S. senior national team still in university, somehow balances her heavy academic course load with monthly trips to compete and train with her national team, often times at the national training center in Colorado Springs.
This weekend, at the WCWA nationals, she is the favourite at 143 pounds, and another gold medal there would continue to represent the steps she is taking to try to become the best in the world.
Nothing is guaranteed.
“Nobody is unbeatable,” Jones says, “but (Velte) is probably our best chance at a championship. When Helen walked into the room, she just elevated everyone’s training. Mallory’s like that, too.”
From understudy to leading lady. It’s the path that Mallory Velte is determined to walk.
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