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Clarissa Chun excited to be first University of Iowa’s women’s wrestling coach
Resume, passion and excitement elevated her to top of the list to usher in new era of Hawkeyes wrestling
IOWA CITY — Clarissa Chun dreamed of competing for the University of Iowa when she was Hawaii’s first female state high school wrestling champion. But it wasn’t an option at that time.
Instead, she attended Missouri Valley College and wrestled for the Vikings’ groundbreaking program. Now, she will be in charge of providing women the chance she didn’t receive during her Hall of Fame wrestling career.
“They have the opportunity to come to the University of Iowa,” Chun said Friday. “The crown jewel of wrestling is right here. I'm just so excited to get it going.”
Chun was flanked by Iowa athletics director Gary Barta and deputy athletics director Barbara Burke on Friday afternoon for her introductory news conference — the first head coach of Iowa’s women’s wrestling program that will begin official competition for the 2023-24 season. Chun, 40, will begin duties Feb. 7.
“Myself personally, I was impressed by her passion, her competitiveness, her desire to be an ambassador for the sport of women's wrestling,” Burke said. “We as a group are confident in her ability to assess talent, train young women and lead these women.
“She's demonstrated this at the highest level of the sport. She clearly knows what it takes to develop champions.”
Chun was a perfect choice, providing experience, excellence and a marquee name. Barta said it was apparent she had the desire, plan and excitement to lead the first NCAA Division I Power-5 women’s wrestling program in the nation.
“Just everybody who was involved in the search, it was a consensus that she was the choice,” Barta said. “So we're so pleased that she said yes.”
The connection between Iowa City and Chun was made almost a decade ago. Chun, a 2022 National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee and just the fourth woman to earn Distinguished Member status, was one of USA Wrestling’s top competitors when the Olympic Team Trials were held at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in April 2012.
She won the 105.5-pound bracket, representing the United States in London and earning an Olympic bronze medal. The sellout crowd for the Olympic Trials and the area’s appreciation for the sport left a huge impression.
“That's exactly what I think about, the energy of Carver-Hawkeye,” said Chun, who also placed fifth at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. “The next day after winning Olympic trials in 2012, I had breakfast. I couldn't even tell you the name of the breakfast joint. Some nice young guy came up and congratulated me, didn't even say (he would pay the bill) but he ended up buying breakfast for me because he was really excited that I made the team. Very knowledgeable about wrestling. He came up and talked to me about my match, whatnot. It was really exciting.
“That doesn't happen anywhere that I've been.”
Wrestling long has been woven into the fabric of Eastern Iowa’s culture. Burke said Chun grasps the relationship between the sport and Iowans. Chun is a strong leader and big name who can champion Iowa’s cause to advance women’s wrestling.
“Clearly she knows wrestling. That was never an issue from the get-go,” Burke said. “It was about the fit for Iowa. She loves the Iowa brand. She's been around Iowa City and Coralville. She understands the importance of wrestling in this community. The big picture. She gets the big picture.
“The other piece of it is being an ambassador for the sport. We do want to continue to help support girls’ and women's wrestling. What a great ambassador that we can have for our program and for women's wrestling across the country. That was a little bit of it for me.”
Chun’s resume stands on its own. She competed in five World Championships, beginning in 2000 and winning a gold medal in 2008. She won five U.S. Open titles and four Pan American Championships during her 18-year senior-level competitive career.
Chun transitioned into coaching. She was Operations Assistant for the West Virginia men’s wrestling program. Chun has been an assistant on USA Wrestling’s women’s national team for head coach and former Iowa NCAA champion Terry Steiner from 2017-21. During that time, Chun helped coach 17 world and four Olympic medalists, including seven World titlists and an Olympic champion.
The move provided the right opportunity to grow as a person and coach.
“I told Barbara in the past, I could continue working alongside Coach Terry Steiner,” Chun said. “Amazing, love working with him, and the women on the national team. No better place than to try to take a leap and challenge myself, breaking out, trying to fill that head coach role, than here in Iowa.”
Chun shared her vision for the program’s foundation.
“I want a team unity, a collaboration, a competitive collaboration,” Chun said. “I think when the team can work together and be competitive, I think great things can happen.”
Chun described herself as an “athlete centered” coach, focusing on daily consistency and competitiveness for success. Her next step will be to recruit athletes who are expected to arrive on campus for fall of 2022 and compete unattached until the inaugural varsity season, and assemble assistants.
“I know sometimes I tend to want to take a lot on my plate, make sure everything is good,” Chun said. “I'm excited for the opportunity to hire a staff that will help me move the team forward to represent Iowa Hawkeyes.”