The 60 kilogram semifinal wrestling match in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London still weighs on Coleman Scott. More than 90 members of his family there, cheering him on, expecting him to win.
But that win didn’t happen. The USA Olympic wrestler lost in a narrow decision to the eventual champion Toghrul Asgarov from Azerbaijan and missed out on a chance to fulfill a dream he’s had since he was 10: to win gold.
Scott left those Olympic games with a bronze instead, but that wasn’t enough for him.
Almost four years later, Scott, the 125-pound, first-year wrestling coach at North Carolina, says that match still lingers in his mind.
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“Every day,” Scott said, nodding his head with an intent look on his face. “Every day.”
When he’s lying down. When he’s training. When he’s watching film. He can’t erase the image of himself sitting up on his knees after losing while his opponent is jumping into his coach’s arms.
He thinks about it at some point every day.
“What I could have done, what I should have done,” he said. “It bothers me. I get very angry just watching it. Just because I was that close. Or at least I felt like I was.”
He wants it to burn. And he uses that for motivation as he prepares for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
It’s likely to be his last shot to win the gold he’s wanted for so many years. He’s 29 now, and by the time the Olympics roll around in August, he’ll be 30 – about five years older than the average gold medal wrestling winner in the eight classes of the 2012 games. The oldest was 29.
“He’s just got to continue to wrestle,” UNC assistant wrestling coach Neil Erisman said. “He’s got the skills and the tools and he’s just got to continue to sharpen and sharpen them and he’ll get there.”
His diet is strict. He buys his food from Metabolic Meals, a food delivery company that ships natural organic meals to his home once a week. He works out twice day, either running, working with weights or cross training.
“You have to mix it up and make sure you stay fresh,” he said. “I mix in cross training to get an edge.”
Some days its about getting warmed up, working and going live, or simulating a wrestling match. And it’s game on, he said. Other days its about working on technique with drills.
“We’re in there scraping and getting after it,” Scott said. “It’s pretty straight forward. Win everything you can.”
That’s how he plans to approach the USA Wrestling Olympic Trials, which are April 9-10 in Iowa City, Iowa. There will be eight to 10 competitors in his 57 kg weight class vying for one spot on the Olympic team. If Scott makes it to the finals, he’ll have four matches in one day.
A juggling act
The Olympics aren’t the only thing Scott is working towards. The ACC Wrestling Championships is March 6 in Charlottesville, Va., and Scott is set on helping his No. 14 Tar Heels win the championship.
UNC (13-5) is in a good position to make a run, and the team has as good of a shot to win as any other.
At the team’s practice on Feb. 23, Scott laced up his orange and white wrestling sneakers. He wore navy blue pants, and a gray shirt with the word “Carolina” across the chest. He’s down in weight to about 125 pounds, since the Olympic committee eliminated the 60 kg (132 pounds) weight class from competition before this year.
“I think he’s really giving us an environment to excel at,” said UNC junior Ethan Ramos, who’s one of the top wrestlers in the country. “It’s tough work but it’s great every time. I think we’re top five national material.”
Not only is Scott coaching his Tar Heels, he’s using their talent to help his training, too.
This day, he trains with sophomore Tyrone Klump.
When I win a gold medal it’s theirs. It’s just as much theirs as it is mine.
UNC coach Coleman Scott
For wrestlers like Klump, who is also 125 pounds, wrestling a bronze medalist is beneficial to his game, but going against his coach is a challenge.
“We treat each other as opponents,” Klump said. “We wrestle each other really hard and obviously he gets the best of me. But I feel like I’m getting a lot better. I told him already, I’m taking credit if he gets the gold.”
The wrestlers wonder what the Olympics will be like. Some plan to go to support their coach.
“When I win a gold medal it’s theirs,” Scott said. “It’s just as much theirs as it is mine.”
At practice there were about 30 wrestlers in UNC’s wrestling gym at the bottom floor of the school’s Fetzer building. Scott asks a few how they were doing. They joke together as if he was one of the guys.
Senior wrestler John Michael Staudenmayer yells out, “Damn Daniel, back at it again with the white shoes,” a line from a recent viral video on the mobile app Snapchat. His teammates and coach laughed.
At 3 p.m. the jokes end and practice begins. Everything during practice is high intensity.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” Scott yells to his players.
The wrestlers began their warm ups, which include running laps and take down drills. Then they wrestle for 10 minutes. In between wrestling moves, he gives a wrestler some advice on his technique.
Then Scott takes Klump to the ground. Scott sits up on his knees, takes a couple of deep breaths and finally stands up.
“Let’s go!” he yells again to his players, as some of them take a breather.
They wrestle again.
Scott has always had doubters, ever since he was a child growing up in Waynesburg, Penn., a small town of a little more than 4,000 people about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. His family owned a small diner there.
Waynesburg, where everybody knows everybody, is known as a wrestling town. But not many people from there made it big.
Scott had different plans, however.
“People laughed at me when I said to them I wanted to be an Olympic champ,” he said. “Nobody from there has ever done anything like that. And they couldn’t understand how I thought like that. But that was my goal and that was my dream and I chased it.”
Those doubters and his losses are what motivates him every day. He can’t wait to prove everyone wrong, he said.
His high school, Wayne Central, was consistently a top five program in the state, and Scott was one the program’s stars. He finished high school with a 156-12 record before becoming a scholarship wrestler at Oklahoma State, a school that’s historically been one of the top three programs in the country.
Scott was a four-time All-American as a Cowboy and won the 2008 NCAA championship under head coach John Smith, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time World Champion. After college, Scott continued wrestling and traveled the world to compete against some of the best athletes despite the low pay.
He said his favorite thing about wrestling is the chance to always learn something new, whether from his athletes, his children or his coaches.
God, family, then wrestling
For Scott, God comes first, then family, then wrestling. Those are his priorities and he holds them close. His wife, Jessica, and their two children support his goal of winning the gold. Jessica said if he wins it, she would probably go crazy in the stands or cry.
“Coleman probably met the most competitive girl he’s ever met in his entire life,” she said. “Winning is as important to him as it is to me and I’m willing to sacrifice my own personal interests in order for him to succeed in his dreams. And I get to experience it all with him.”
Scott joined UNC’s coaching staff in 2014, working with the light and middleweight wrestlers. In 2015, he was named head coach, becoming the sixth wrestling coach in the program’s history. He replaced C.D. Mock, who was fired after 12 seasons.
Scott said he became a coach because he’s getting older and he wants to make sure his family is taken care of. But he thinks coaching the Tar Heels to the ACC Wrestling Championships, training for the Olympic trials and being a family man all at the same time is something he can handle.
“(My family is) my number one priority,” Scott said. “It always will be. I just didn’t want to miss out on a great opportunity. And selfishly I thought I could do (coach and train). I’m just wired that way. I think I can win an Olympic gold medal and be a head coach. I think its doable so I’m going to give it a go.”
ACC Wrestling tournament
The 2016 ACC Wrestling Championships will be March 6 at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA. The first round begins at 11 a.m. The final round is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.