Chad Hanke goes for gold
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 00:02
For college football players there’s the NFL. For college basketball players there’s the NBA. For college baseball players there’s the MLB.
In wrestling there is no professional league after college. There are no Nike contracts to sign or McDonald’s endorsements to gain. For most, college is the end-all be-all of wrestling.
But for Oregon State wrestler Chad Hanke, college is only the beginning. The senior heavyweight has higher aspirations — an Olympic gold medal.
It’s a dream that nearly all collegiate wrestlers have but few ever get the chance to pursue.
“A lot of people get to college and that’s their career,” Hanke said. “They wrestle four years and then that’s it, they go on to work or whatever. I never saw it that way. I thought I’d go to college and get better for the Olympics.”
“It’s the next step for us,” added No. 6 Taylor Meeks, 197-pound sophomore. “There’s no pros or anything for us, so Olympic wrestling is the next step. You’re training for that after college.”
For those that followed Oregon State wrestling last year, Hanke might sound like a new name. He didn’t wrestle in a Beaver uniform in 2011 because he was somewhere else.
He was chasing his dream of qualifying for the United States Olympic Team.
Hanke became eligible for the Olympic trials after taking second place at the World Trials. The performance allowed Hanke to take an Olympic redshirt, something the No. 4 ranked senior called “the chance of a lifetime.”
The Dayton native finished fifth at the U.S. Olympic Trials, failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London, but enjoyed the experience nonetheless.
“I got to be on a really big stage — the Olympic Trials, it doesn’t really get much bigger than that,” Hanke said. “I got to go against the best wrestlers that [the United States] has to offer and kind of see where I stood against them.”
The opportunity also allowed Hanke to improve as a college wrestler. The extra year of training allowed for the chance to put on weight and wrestle as a heavyweight this season — which is his natural weight class.
Before last season, All-American Clayton Jack was a four-year mainstay at the heavyweight position, meaning Hanke would have had to cut to 197 pounds as he had in his first three seasons.
“He was always having to lose a lot of weight and I think wrestling at 197 might have been his biggest problem,” said head coach Jim Zalesky. “It was good that the Olympic redshirt opportunity came around so that he could learn to wrestle heavyweight.”
The change proved to be the right one, as Hanke is currently experiencing his best collegiate season.
“I think his confidence level has been a lot better,” said No. 4 Mike Mangrum, 141-pound senior. “It’s really helped the mental aspect of his wrestling. Just mentally, really, is where he needed to step up because he was great, and always has been a great wrestler, but his mentality is just through the roof.”
Hanke is now a national contender. He’s wrestling the best of his career and is poised to make one more run at a national championship — another goal he’s had for some time.
“First thing’s first I need to get that national title,” Hanke said. “It’s been a long road and I just want to go out on top.”
While Hanke’s focus is on winning an NCAA heavyweight title for right now, his time at Oregon State is just the first chapter of what he hopes is a long Olympic career.
The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro is a destination Hanke has hoped to reach since middle school.
“It’s been my goal since I was a kid to wrestle in Rio and then again in 2020,” Hanke said.
But Hanke’s dream of wrestling in 2020 could be in jeopardy. The International Olympic Committee announced Feb. 12 wrestling would be dropped in the yet to be determined 2020 Summer Olympics.
While the IOC has backed off in the past week, it’s still unclear what the sport’s fate will be. Regardless of what happens in 2020, however, Hanke expects to compete in 2016.
“I’ll be at Rio,” Hanke said. “That’s the goal at least, is to be at Rio. Hopefully that’s not the last Olympics, but that would be kind of cool to say that I got the last Olympics.”
Zalesky has confidence in Hanke to compete in Rio in three years.
“I think he’ll be right there,” Zalesky said. “When you get to that next level it gets a little more competitive than it is right now, but he’s grown so much. If he believes, then he can do it.”
For now, Hanke’s the fourth-ranked heavyweight in the nation for the No. 9 Oregon State Beavers. But if things go as planned, his six years at OSU are just a stepping-stone for bigger things to come.
“I want to win nationals right now but when this is done there’s still more wrestling to do,” Hanke said. “It’s a smaller goal to get to a bigger goal.”
Andrew Kilstrom, sports editor