WRESTLING: Fresh off win at Pan American Championships, Henry Cejudo turns focus to making U.S. Olympic Team
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.-Henry Cejudo has been excelling at the Senior level for so long that it's sometimes easy to forget how young he is. And just how far advanced he is at such a young age. Cejudo just celebrated his 21st birthday last month, but he already has made a significant splash at freestyle wrestling's top level. He's won a pair of U.S. Nationals titles, he won a gold medal at the Pan American Games, he made the 2007 U.S. World Team and he recently won his third straight Pan American Championships title. While Iowa sophomore Brent Metcalf is one of the most talked about wrestlers in the U.S. right now because of his college success, a wrestler six months younger in Cejudo already is a force internationally. Even though he's only 21 and bypassed college wrestling to compete full-time internationally, Cejudo still feels like he's a little behind schedule. He lost in the first round of the 2007 World Championships last September in Baku, Azerbaijan, and fell short of his goal of winning his first World medal."Ever since I started wrestling at the Senior level, I've had really high goals,"Cejudo said."I want to win the Olympics and win a World title. I wasn't worried about how young I was."Cejudo (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) suffered a first-round loss to Iran's Taghi Dadashi at the 2007 Worlds."I don't really know what happened in that match,"Cejudo said."I wish I could answer that, but I can't. I just didn't wrestle the way I was trained to wrestle and that just wasn't me out there. It was very disappointing. I'm not sure what went wrong, but I'll be back. I won't let that happen again."Cejudo turned in a strong performance in winning the Pan American Championships on March 2 in Colorado Springs. He pinned 2007 World bronze medalist Andy Moreno of Cuba in the finals. Cejudo has beaten Moreno three times in the last two years."It gives me a big boost to beat the Cuban,"Cejudo said."I was finally injury-free and I felt great out there. I'm pretty dangerous when I open up my offense and get after it. When I'm attacking, like I did in that match, my opponent is in trouble."Cejudo's performance at Pan Ams also qualified the U.S. for the 2008 Olympics at 55 kg/121 lbs."It was more of a relief than anything,"Cejudo said."When the U.S. is counting on you to qualify the weight class for the Olympics, that's a lot of stress on you right there. There is only one guy who can do it and that guy is you. I tried to put it out of my head, but when the tournament got here I was like, 'Whoa, I've got to get this weight qualified.' It feels good to finally get that done."Now that the weight is qualified, Cejudo can focus on making the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team. His toughest obstacle to making the American squad may be 2004 Olympic silver medalist Stephen Abas, who recently returned to competition after missing the past couple of seasons with injuries."I'm all about competing-I love wrestling the best guys,"Cejudo said."It will be a big challenge for me. I'm ready to show people what I've got at Nationals and Trials. I'm really excited about this season."In addition to beating a World medalist like Moreno, Cejudo owns a win over reigning World champion Besik Kudukhov of Russia. But that win came in November of 2005."I've beaten the best guys in the World and I know I can do it again,"Cejudo said."I just have to wrestle my style and focus on my areas of concentration."Cejudo's mother, Nelly Rico, has moved to Colorado Springs to be closer to Henry and his older brother, Angel Cejudo, who recently won the Dave Schultz Memorial International at 60 kg/132 lbs."It's great having my mom here now,"Henry said."There is always a place I can go to chill out and watch a movie and just hang out. And she's a great cook, so I can get a great meal whenever I go over there. She's very supportive and it's nice having her here close to me."Cejudo gained his share of attention when he was the focus of a four-page feature last year in Sports Illustrated. He recently posed with U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Executive Officer Jim Scherr for a cover photo for a Colorado publication."There is pressure on me because of some of the attention I've received, but it hasn't fazed me,"Cejudo said."I just try to have fun with it. I like getting recognition for wrestling and helping promote the sport. It's the greatest sport in the world and we need to let people know that."Cejudo is hoping to be in the spotlight again at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China."It would mean a lot to me to wrestle in the Olympics,"he said."That's why I wrestle-I want to win an Olympic gold medal. That's what motivates me and drives me. I want to be the best."