PHILADELPHIA - Since graduating from Penn in 2007 as a two-time NCAA wrestling champion, current assistant coach Matt Valenti has been focused on training in freestyle with his eye on the 2012 Olympic Games in London. On Sunday, he became one step closer to realizing that dream as he officially qualified for the 2011 United States Olympic Team Trials via his third place finish at the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) International.
Competing at 60 kilograms, Valenti was the highest-finishing U.S. competitor who hadn't previously locked up a spot at the Trials to be held in Iowa City, Iowa April 21-22.
I'm excited and proud to be qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials," Valenti said. "Although I didn't finish as high in the NYAC tournament as I would have liked it was an important step in the Olympic process. I will continue to train hard and improve over the next few months as I prepare to chase my childhood dream of Olympic gold."
Valenti went 5-1 at the NYAC International, advancing to the semifinals before losing to eventual champion - and the meet's Most Outstanding Wrestler - Reece Humphrey from the NYAC. Along the way, Valenti defeated Vince Cormier (Canada), Undrakhbey Khisnignyam (Mongolia), Daniel Dennis (United States - NYAC), Tyler Graff (United States - NYAC) and Mandakhnar Ganzorig (Mongolia).
Valenti is one of six wrestlers at 60kg. qualified for the Olympic Trials to this point. The two wrestlers who finished above Valenti at the NYAC meet had previously qualified via their placement at the 2011 World Team Trials - Humphrey won that tournament and Coleman Scott was the true third place finisher. It is possible that as many as six more wrestlers could earn bids to the 2012 Olympic Team Trials at qualifying events still on the schedule.
If Valenti navigates the Olympic Trials in April, he will have familiar coaches taking him across the pond to London. The head coach of the United States men's freestyle wrestling team is Zeke Jones, the former Penn coach (2005-08) who coached Valenti to his pair of NCAA titles. One of Jones' assistants is Brandon Slay W'98, the 2000 Olympic Gold Medalist at 76kg and a two-time NCAA runner-up while competing at Penn.
Valenti returns to Penn's corner on Sunday when the Quakers host their annual Keystone Classic at The Palestra all day.