MOUNT VERNON — One of the biggest questions surrounding Iowa’s wrestling program concerned Spencer Lee’s availability for the upcoming season.
The Hawkeyes’ two-time NCAA titlist and three-time freestyle World champion earned the option for an Olympic redshirt season, allowing him to forgo college competition and focus solely on training for the 2020 Olympics.
Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, they will have their transcendent 125-pounder for most of the season, while he enters select freestyle events in a push to represent USA Wrestling in Tokyo next year.
The decision boiled down to what was in his best interest.
“Obviously, I want to help the team out and win a team national title, but I have to focus on myself first,” Lee said during the team’s annual media day held Wednesday at Kroul Farms. “I think wrestling during the season is a great idea. It helps keep me accountable, in shape and ready to rock and roll.”
Lee is a vital part to Iowa’s overall success. In addition to his two gold medals, Lee has accounted for almost 30 percent of the Hawkeyes’ national team scoring the last two years with 51.5 team points. When he’s not in the lineup, redshirt freshman Aaron Cashman will be his replacement.
“We’re doing what’s best for our individual like we always do,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “We’re planning to put our best team on the mat, and that include Spencer Lee, but it also includes nine or 10 seniors and Cashman, a 125-pounder that he’s not going to concede that position, but everybody else is saying that he’s the No. 2 guy on our roster at 125. He’s going to have to be ready to go. He’ll be on the mat in some big dual meet matches for us.”
Lee will compete in some tournaments and the most likely one is the U.S. Open in December, which is an Olympic Trials qualifier.
“We’ll see,” Lee said. “There’s nothing set in stone yet.”
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Lee captured two Junior World titles and a Cadet World gold medal before he stepped on Iowa’s campus. The reason he settled on Iowa City was the chance for an Olympic gold.
“My goal was always to win an Olympic gold medal,” Lee said. “National titles are great and all, but I’d take an Olympic gold medal over any of my national titles any day. That’s not even a decision or close to a tough decision.
“That was my goal when I came to Iowa. It was to be the best I can be. World and Olympic Championships. National titles are a great steppingstone to that, but this is pretty much why I came here. These guys can do it. They make everyone on this team the best they can be.”
Lee said this is a group effort and he needs everyone to help, including his Hawkeye teammates and Hawkeye Wrestling Club members like Thomas Gilman and Cory Clark. Brands said training through the season will serve him well for his freestyle aspirations.
“He will be heavily involved this year,” Brands said. “We’re going to need him, and the thing is his best preparation for what he’s trying to accomplish in Tokyo, he knows that it’s through those seven-minute matches. Not because the styles are similar or not similar, however you want to get into that debate, but because there’s a certain amount of toughness that goes into an extra minute and riding time and overtime.
“So you’ve got to be conditioned to wrestle 11-, 12-minute matches, and that helps Spencer Lee. That’s what he needs.”
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