AVHS grad earns spot on U.S. Olympic wrestling team
The sky always has been the limit for Gable Steveson in wrestling, so when people who coached him or trained with him in Apple Valley watch him now, they’re never surprised.
Not even when he puts on a dominant performance that earns an Olympic berth. Last weekend Steveson, a four-time high school champion at Apple Valley and reigning NCAA Division I 285-pound champ for the University of Minnesota, bulldozed his way through the best freestyle wrestlers the country had to offer at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
None of his matches were close, not even the two he won against No. 1 seed and two-time NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski in the finals. Steveson won by a 10-0 technical fall in the first match of a best-of-three final, then earned his spot on the Olympic team with a 10-4 decision.
The freestyle wrestling tournament at the 2021 Summer Olympics will be Aug. 1-7 in Tokyo.
“I plan on going to Tokyo and just wrestling,” Steveson said in a video conference Saturday following his victory in the 125-kilogram finals. “But I want to get gold. There’s no other option. I live for this.
“I know those other guys (at his Olympic weight class), and they’re going to know who Gable Steveson is real soon.”
Steveson will be the fourth Apple Valley High School graduate to compete in the Olympics and the first male. The last AVHS grad to be in the Olympics is Rebekah Bradford, who qualified in speed skating in 2010.
For Apple Valley’s storied wrestling team, it’s another first as Steveson’s Trials victory gives the program its first Olympian.
“These are not matches where he goes out and pins a guy in 10 seconds, like he did in the state high school finals” in Steveson’s senior year, Apple Valley head coach Josh Barlage said. “The competition he was facing was incredible. But he adjusted, and I’m absolutely not surprised.”
Barlage was the Eagles’ head coach in Steveson’s senior year of high school and an assistant coach before that. Steveson finished second at the 2014 state Class 3A tournament before stringing together four state titles. He had a high school record of 210-3, with victories in his final 173 matches, and is 67-2 as a college wrestler. He has one year of college eligibility remaining at Minnesota.
He also owns two Cadet World Championships and one Junior World Championship.
The Olympics weren’t often discussed in the Apple Valley wrestling room, but coaches and teammates alike understood Steveson was a special talent.
“Gable’s goal as a wrestler always was to reach the highest level,” Barlage said. “We didn’t talk about the Olympics much in the room, but if you asked Gable then if he was going to be a gold medalist, I guarantee 100 percent his answer would have been yes.”
Few if any high school opponents could match Steveson’s blend of strength and quickness. Nor could they out-think him on the mat.
Since Apple Valley, “it sounds hard to believe but he’s probably faster, and I know he’s a lot stronger,” Barlage said. “That’s helped him continue to dominate in his matches even as he faced stronger competition.”
At the Trials, Steveson said he wanted to be an inspiration to younger wrestlers. “Hopefully kids will look at me and say, ‘I can do that too,’ ” he said.
His influence will continue to be felt at Apple Valley. “He’s a celebrity to our kids, but he also was in this room just three years ago, doing the same training as the kids we have now,” Barlage said. “We can tell them, ‘Hey, this is possible. You can come from here and be an NCAA champion,’ ” Barlage said.
Another recent NCAA champion from Apple Valley, Seth Gross, wrestled at the U.S. Trials in the 57kg class. He lost both of his matches, although the first was marked by controversy. Gross had an 8-4 lead over Joe Colon when the wrestlers went to the edge of the mat. Colon threw him for four points after Gross thought the whistle blew. Gross’ coaches asked for a video review challenge, but the call was upheld, meaning Colon not only kept the four points for the throw but was awarded one more point because of Gross’ lost challenge. Colon went on to win 9-8.
Gross, who won an NCAA championship at South Dakota State, now is an assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin.