BRISTOL, Tenn. – 2016 has been a new journey for King University women's wrestler Haley Augello, who took a redshirt year to pursue her dreams of competing at the Olympics. Earlier this spring she took steps to make that happen and following a grueling summer of training, her dream will come to a culmination when she becomes the first American woman at the 2016 Olympic Games to step on the mat in Rio on August 17.
The road hasn't been easy for Augello who has spent this year training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The journey started when she won the U.S. Olympic Trials at 48 kilograms on April 10 in Iowa City, Iowa as the fourth seed. At the competition, she defeated No. 1-ranked, and top seed in the tournament, Alyssa Lampe 7-6 on a late takedown in the semifinals. The championship series then went the full three bouts against second-ranked Victoria Anthony. Augello took the first bout, but Anthony evened the tally with a win in match number two. Augello left no doubt, taking the winner-take-all third match 8-2, clinching the title.
However, the work wasn't done for the Lockport, Ill., native as the U.S. hadn't qualified her weight class for the Olympic Games. Two weeks after winning the Olympic Trials, Augello traveled to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to qualify the weight, which Augello says was a unique and rewarding experience. Knowing she had to place in the top two, she made quick work of her first three opponents, winning by a combined score of 32-1 to clinch her spot in the Olympics and reach the finals.
"When I won my semifinal match in Mongolia, I felt really blessed," Augello said. "In a moment when you reach a goal of yours, it's almost surreal. I felt happy for myself and my family and all the people who have given their time to me. I felt really thankful that I was the one able to go represent America and qualify the spot for the Olympics."
Following her qualification 6,500 miles away from the Olympic Training Center, Augello's summer has been one of ups and downs as nearly everyone has preparing for an event like the Olympics.
"There are good practices and there are bad practices," Augello commented. "Be thankful for the good ones and be thankful for the bad ones. You can't learn, win, or compete without BOTH."
Wrestling has been the focal point of her year, but it has also brought many opportunities. Earlier this summer Augello traveled to New York for Beat the Streets, a Team USA event held at Times Square in New York as part of a countdown to the Olympic Games. She also took trips to Canada and Spain throughout the summer.
"I went to New York for Beat the Streets and saw how passionate the founders and investors of USA Wrestling are for growing the sport of wrestling," said Augello. "It was so eye opening to see the heart and soul that goes into being involved in making what we do possible."
She traveled to Spain for a camp in July which was very useful for Augello to see international competition and train with some of the top competition at her weight class. They spent a few days drilling before wrapping up the camp with a few days of live situations and matches.
King head wrestling coach Jason Moorman isn't surprised that Augello qualified for the Olympics, saying she has a great work ethic and was very successful prior to stepping on campus.
"Haley came to King with a lot of success under her belt at the Cadet and Junior levels," Moorman said. "One of the things that stands out for sure is how hard she works in the wrestling room and the weight room. I think one of her biggest challenges has been the mental game, and she has grown so much in that area, and really conquered that which is why she is in Rio right now."
Qualifying for the Olympics was only half the battle for Augello, who is ranked 17th in the United World Wrestling August Rankings. The field she will be competing against in Rio features 15 of the top 20 and nine of the top 10 ranked wrestlers in the World.
Top-ranked Mariya Stadnyk of Azerbaijan and No. 3 Eri Tosaka of Japan headline the field in Rio. Stadnyk owns six World and Olympic medals and has won gold six times at the European Championships. Tosaka will be competing in her first Olympics after claiming the last three World gold medals.
The World's second-ranked wrestler, Sun Yanan of China is also in the field as a two-time World medalist at 51 kilograms and a 2013 World champion. Coming ranked fourth in the World is Jyldyz Eshimova of Kazakhstan who is a two-time World medalist.
The field consists of five past Olympians, Stadnyk, Eshimova, Iwona Matkowska of Poland, Patricia Bermudez of Argentina and Carolina Castillo of Colombia. Eshimova won a silver medal in 2008 and World bronze in 2011. Kim Hyon-Gyong is also in the field as she is the last person to defeat Augello, taking a 9-2 win in Mongolia.
"In Rio, I'm most looking forward to stepping on the mat and competing, no doubt," Augello said.
Training and preparing for the Olympics is no small task. There are numerous people that have helped Augello throughout the journey and she is grateful for their support.
"The past few weeks have been super busy and I feel like I haven't appropriately thanked and expressed my gratitude to the people who've helped me along the way," stated Augello.
The 48 kilogram weight class competes on August 17 in Rio, starting at 9:00 a.m. EDT. All the matches will be streamed live on NBCOlympics.com. The brackets will be announced following weigh-in on August 16.
Moorman will be traveling to Rio to see Augello compete and he expects to see a great performance.
"I am looking forward to just seeing her compete, of course along with rest of Team USA," Moorman stated. "I am so proud of her, and excited to share this experience with her and her family."
As for his expectations. "Gold, no question. She has the tools, the strength, and the attitude. If she stays on her mental game, she can win whole thing."
Video interview from USA Wrestling in Rio.
Women's Freestyle 48 kg Schedule
Women's Freestyle 48 kg Qualifications
Aug. 17 9:00 a.m. EDT
Women's FR 48 kg 1/8 Finals/Rep Rnd 1
Aug. 17 9:30 a.m. EDT
Women's FR 48 kg Quarterfinals/Rep Rnd 2
Aug. 17 10:00 a.m. EDT
Women's FR 48 kg Semifinals/Bronze Final
Aug. 17 10:40 a.m. EDT
Women's Freestyle 48 kg
Aug. 17 4:05 p.m. EDT
Women's FR 48 kg Medal Ceremony
Aug. 17 4:15 p.m. EDT