College Wrestling

Wrestling the sole focus for Daniel Dennis as Olympics approach

16th Iowa wrestler to make the Olympic games says a lot has changed since he qualified for Rio in April

Daniel Dennis waits for the second bout of the 57-kg freestyle championship match against Tony Ramos to begin at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on April 10, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Daniel Dennis waits for the second bout of the 57-kg freestyle championship match against Tony Ramos to begin at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on April 10, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Things are good for Daniel Dennis right now.

The former University of Iowa wrestler turned journeyman turned Olympian said he has been busy preparing for the Olympics, but everything that comes with it has been new to him.

He said he has been pressured to walk in the opening ceremonies, though he said he is not one for the pageantry. He won gold at the German Grand Prix in Berlin, and there were several training camp trips to the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado.

He also has to meet with the media more often — something he does, but does not like.

“I don’t really care to do it, but I just care to compete,” Dennis said. “I don’t like the follow, publicity, outside of it. I just like wrestling.

“It’s great for the (Iowa wrestling) program, and that’s why I’m here doing it. The program that we have here is something special.”

Dennis added himself to the exclusive list of Hawkeye Olympians with a series of gut wrenches on fellow Hawkeye Wrestling Club member Tony Ramos, the fallout from which echoed throughout Carver-Hawkeye Arena the night of the 57-kg finals.

Dennis said now his focus is on the Olympics, not the aftermath of the trials, and both he and Ramos are grown men capable of moving past that, though he said Ramos received treatment no different from any other member of the club.

“Tony is still somebody who I like, and he didn’t say anything bad about me,” Dennis said. “I wish he didn’t feel the way he does about it, but I don’t lose any sleep about it.

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“Any problem in that relationship wasn’t a problem that I had. It wasn’t a problem that the program had. It was a problem that he had with me or the coaches. It wasn’t a problem that the coaches had with him, so I don’t think it reflects on anyone but himself, and that might sound a little harsh, but he’s a grown man. He can take that.”

The wrestling spoke for itself then, and it will in Rio, where Dennis said he’s not concerned about the Zika virus or other problems facing Rio and Brazil.

The biggest concern for Dennis is travel, though even then, the soft-spoken wrestler said he’s solely focused on wrestling.

“Any time you travel internationally for competition, nothing ever goes as planned. No matter where I’ve gone, nothing ever fell into place exactly how we were told it was going to be,” he said. “I just stay focused on the task at hand. I go over there with blinders on and don’t focus on too much other than just getting ready for competition.”

Iowa wrestling assistant coach Terry Brands said Dennis is a better wrestler than Brands was, and Dennis, meanwhile, said he has been able to lean on Brands for advice on training at 29. Tom Brands will be in Rio as a volunteer assistant coach, as well, which is something Dennis is excited about.

Terry Brands noted the competition does not matter, and that when they leave for Rio on Aug. 2, the mat still is just a mat.

“He’s going to step on a mat that’s the same size as the ones he’s been on before, and everyone is after the same thing he is, to slip a gold medal in their pocket,” Terry Brands said. “Ultimately we’ve got to make sure the things that can derail him don’t.”

“There’s no bust. That’s the goal, obviously, but it’s not all or nothing. If you slip on a wet spot and your world caves in, you just continue to focus on doing as next best as you can,” Dennis said. “I’m just focused on wrestling every match as best as I can.”

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