Is US wrestler Tamyra Mensah-Stock the most upbeat athlete at Tokyo 2020?

Tamyra Mensah-Stock commiserates with Sara Dosho of Team Japan after her victory during the women’s 68kg wrestling
Tamyra Mensah-Stock commiserates with Sara Dosho of Team Japan after her victory during the women’s 68kg wrestling. Photograph: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The American is into the women’s 68kg freestyle wrestling final. And she is more than happy to count her blessings in life

By Tom Dart – Mon. Aug 2, 2021 – for The Guardian

My cmnt: Tamyra did go on to win the gold. She loudly and emphatically proclaimed, “I love America” after winning. Some people are still happy and proud to represent America in the Olympics and appreciate being born in the land of the free and the home of the brave and all the opportunities she provides for her citizens. This is why in fact everyone in the world tries to come to America and no one, not even the lying Hollywood elite who promise to leave but never ever do, wants to go any other place else on earth.

At an Olympics where infection rates are studied as closely as medal tables, smiles must be inferred from subtle crumples in face masks and signs in near-empty venues warn spectators not to mingle, Tamyra Mensah-Stock would like to make it clear that she is having a good time in Japan. A great time, in fact.

That was true even before she secured a medal by progressing to Tuesday’s women’s 68kg freestyle wrestling final with a statement win over Alla Cherkasova, a former world champion.

Mensah-Stock came prepared for the US wrestling team’s pre-Games camp in Nakatsugawa, a city about 200 miles west of Tokyo. “I didn’t want to sit in my room and just let the time go by, slowly dreading the fact that I’m going to the Olympics. So the first things I packed: karaoke machine, Xbox and Switch,” she said.

“The day landing into Japan, I knew I was going to have fun in Nakatsugawa.” She clapped. “They’re freaking awesome! They let me karaoke literally every single day. It was awesome!”

The 28-year-old strode into the arena for her match against the veteran Ukrainian with a steely-eyed stare. If she had bumped into one of the giant concrete pillars holding up the roof, you would not have liked the pillar’s chances.

She left with a spring in her step after a hard-fought 10-4 win, her third and toughest victory of the day. Almost every sentence seemed to end on an exclamation mark as she talked, still glistening with perspiration, bearing a grin as broad as Tokyo Bay and exuding effervescence. “I know, I still have energy, right?” she said.

“I like to showcase what God’s given me, and so going out there and inflicting my will, it’s fun. Because it makes me surprised, what I’m capable of. And when I go out there, and I do it, it’s awesome. I love getting that moment.

“I’ve still got a night to rest and a whole day, no need to be tense the entire time, that’s just stressful. I’m not about that life. I’m here to enjoy the journey. And I am!”

Born in Chicago, Mensah-Stock grew up in the Houston suburbs and is the reigning world champion in the 68kg category. Encouraged by her twin sister, she took up wrestling after being bullied by her track-and-field teammates at school, and it became her hobby, her passion and her job. “It fits like the most perfect puzzle piece that you can think of. It’s extraordinary and me encanta – I love it!” she said. “I’ve been also practising Spanish.”

Her dad was proud. “He said, growing up, when he lived in Africa up until he was 30, he would get into fights all the time, like coming to and from school. He loved the fact that I had joined wrestling, he just wanted to see his baby girl fight,” she said. “So that’s probably where it came from. And on top of that, mom grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and she had to fight too. I’ll leave it at that.”

Her father died in a car accident on the way home from one of her high-school tournaments. In the aftermath, Mensah-Stock blamed the sport and considered stepping away. She resolved to carry on, and now she is on the brink of Olympic glory.

Squirming, grabbing, yelling and desperate evasive manoeuvres on the floor as a crowd looks on: wrestling is the Olympic sport that most closely resembles parenting a tired toddler in a supermarket. Women’s freestyle joined the programme in 2004, and Helen Maroulis became the first American woman to win a wrestling gold in 2016.

Bidding to become the second, Adeline Gray, a five-time world champion, took silver on Monday in the final of the women’s 76kg category after a 7-3 loss to Germany’s Aline Rotter-Focken. Gray, 30, finished seventh in Rio after struggling with injuries. The two embraced at the end: they have been good friends since they were teenagers, so close that Gray invited Rotter-Focken to her wedding.

Over to Mensah-Stock. How will she prepare for the final against Blessing Oborududu of Nigeria? “We’ll see where these feet lead me. I might end up watching The Walking Dead all day,” she said.

As for karaoke, she sings a bit of everything: country, rap, rock, gospel. “Bring Me To Life” by Evanescence is a favourite. And then there’s her current motivational track. “A song that I was listening to was ‘Get Your Blessing’ [Go Get It] and so I was like” – she started singing – “I gotta get my blessing, go get it, go get it!” Then she bounced out of the interview zone – quite literally, she was bouncing – flashing peace signs.

On Tuesday she might just be standing on a platform laid out on top of a wrestling mat, belting out “The Star-Spangled Banner” for all the world to hear.

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