By John Bombatch
Ever since her days as a member of the Greeneview Elementary wrestling team, Emma Randall has loved the sport. That love for wrestling will send her to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
As a coach.
Randall is an assistant coach on the U.S. Women’s Olympic Wrestling Team, with wrestlers Haley Augello, Adeline Gray, Helen Maroulis and Elena Pirozhkova. Terry Steiner is the head women’s wrestling coach, and Erin Tomeo also serves as an assistant national team coach with Randall.
The 26-year-old Jamestown native recently became the first woman to earn Gold Level Certification in the USA Wrestling National Coaches Education Program.
But four years ago, she nearly had her years of involvement in the sport come to a complete halt.
“I’d been traveling the country, competing in national tournaments for Lockhaven University where I earned my undergraduate degree. I had attended some team camps at the Olympic Training Center, here in Colorado Springs, Colo., and developed some contacts with the national team. My degree is in Sport Administration with a minor in Sport Psychology and Coaching, so I knew I really wanted to be involved in the coaching side of the sport,” Randall said.
She learned about a wrestling internship program for coaches that was provided by the New York Athletic Club, but the deal fell through. Unsure of where to turn next in her career dream, Randall gave Steiner a call.
“I told him ‘You know, I want to get involved with coaching. I know this is where my passion is, but I don’t really know where to go, now that this program has fallen through.’ And he said ‘Well, why don’t you just come out here?’”
Randall started a coaching internship at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in the summer of 2012. But even that internship nearly ended her career.
“When that internship ended, the team was away in Canada for the world championships,” Randall explained. “And so I just stayed on to help out around the facility until the team got back. When they got back, they had asked me when my internship would end, and I explained to them that it had actually expired two weeks ago while they were gone. They said, ‘Oh! Well, we would like you to stay.’”
Randall’s job has grown from coaching intern, to head coach of the national cadet wrestling age group (14-17 year-olds), as well as assistant coach for the women’s national team.
Now she’s a part of the U.S. Olympic Team.
“Yeah, it’s a pretty cool feeling. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be an Olympian,” she said. “And over the years, my role has changed. What I’ve wanted is different. Before, I wanted to be an Olympian myself, and I wasn’t entirely sure what my role in wrestling was. And now it’s a pretty amazing feeling to help athletes reach their dreams, learn a new skill and come off the mat with a smile on their faces.
“Dreams do come true if you work hard and you pursue it actively and refuse to give up.”
Randall said it’s also devastating to see the wrestlers fall short of their dreams. She said the recent U.S. Olympic Trials were difficult for her, because not all of the women’s wrestlers who were supposed to get to Rio actually made it.
The four who will be representing the U.S. Women’s Wrestling team have plenty of credentials, however.
Augello and Maroulis both qualified by virtue of their respective finishes in an Olympic qualifying tournament last April in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Maroulis is ranked no. 1 at 55 kilograms, but that weight class is not being contested in Rio, so she went to Mongolia and won the 53 kg. event to qualify. Augello earned a runner-up spot in the 48 kg. weight class in Mongolia to also qualify.
Pirozhkova won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials tournament and the Pan American Championships. The 2012 World Champion also had to switch weight classes. Ranked ninth in the world at 69 kg., Pirozhkova will wrestle at 63 kg. at the Rio Games.
Last, but definitely not least, Gray is ranked no. 1 in the world in the women’s 75 kg. weight class. A three-time world champ (in 2012, ‘14 and ‘15), Gray won the U.S. Team Trials tourney and was the Olympic Test champion in Rio earlier this year.
The women’s wrestling matches are scheduled for Aug. 14-21 in the brand-new Carioca Arena 2 at Barra Olympic Park, in Rio, Brazil. The Olympic Games are set to begin on Aug. 5. Randall and the wrestling team will fly to Rio on Aug. 2.