World champion plans ‘to dominate’ Tokyo Olympics after missing out on Rio Games
With 14 seconds left in Tamyra Mensah-Stock’s match with Kennedy Blades at USA Wrestling’s Olympic Trials in April, the referee called out 14 seconds, letting both women know there wasn’t much time left. Mensah-Stock had an 8-1 lead.
While that deficit would be tough to make up with points in such a short time, in wrestling, a pin is always possible. Mensah-Stock won the first of the best-of-three matches. Becoming an Olympian was just within her reach. She realized she needed to keep her concentration. She told herself that she could not give up any points, much less a pin.
“You don't finish wrestling until the clock is done. So, I've always just had that mindset, ‘Stay ready so you ain't got to get ready, and just stay focused until the very end,’” Mensah-Stock said.
But then the final buzzer sounded. Mensah-Stock had reached her goal. She covered her face with both hands, pointed to the sky and hugged her opponent. During the post-match interview, her face broke into a broad smile, soaked with tears.
“It was just so many tears of joy,” she said of the moment. “There were just so many emotions. There was no anger. There was no regret. Just, ‘I did it. You did what you had to do. And you did it.’”
Wrestling’s Olympic trials were held in Fort Worth, Texas, Mensah-Stock’s home state. Having her family there to cheer her on was so important because they have been a part of every step of her Olympic journey, which was far from easy.
She was introduced to wrestling by her twin sister Tarkiya. Once she gave the sport a chance, Mensah-Stock found that it suited her. She met her husband on the mat, as he was a member of her high school and college programs. Mensah-Stock’s father was killed in a car crash leaving one of her tournaments.
He had been her No. 1 fan, and her mother moved into that spot after his death.
“I know I wrestle for them, as well. And I know that they are proud of me and they just want to see me keep going and striving,” Mensah-Stock said. “They all believed me and knew that I could get to where I'm at and more. So, I wrestle for them. I wrestle for my mom and my family because they're super proud and they're like, ‘We've got a superstar.’”
During the Olympic Trials, two-time Olympic gold medalist John Smith noted in his television commentary how much she has improved over the years. According to Mensah-Stock, wrestling is what helped her find who she is.
“I loved it because I love being that fierce, powerful woman, and then yet I am loving and sincere,” she said. “It's who I am. It helped me discover who I was. And that's pretty much what's driven me to keep going. It's made me into the woman I am today.
“If I was still in track and field, I'd probably be this timid female, still getting bullied around my workplace or whatnot. But now I'm like, "Nah. No, don't want to do that. No. You're not going to tell me that. You better watch your mouth.’”
Women started wrestling at the Olympics in 2004. Girls wrestling is currently sanctioned in 32 states. It’s growing, and Mensah-Stock wants young girls to see her and realize they can do the sport, as well.
“They look at me and they go, ‘Wow, I can be nice and mean at the same time.’ And I'm like, ‘Yes, you can be. Just keep the meanness on the mat, and then maybe sometimes off the mat if need be,’” she said. “But it's awesome. And honestly, it's a dream come true because that's also one of the reasons why I wanted to stick to wrestling, because I see all the role models that these young women have.”
In 2016, Mensah-Stock won the Olympic Trials, but she failed to qualify for a spot at the Rio Olympics for her weight class. This time, she left no doubt, winning a world championship in 2019. She is a favorite to win it all. For the Tokyo Games, her sights are set high.
“Gold. And not just gold, but to show them that there's a reason why I beat the Olympic champion and the world champions,” she said. “Because I am the reigning world champion. I'm there to dominate. And then when we're done, I will hug and love on you. But I want to showcase the grace that I've been given. I'm going for gold.”