Iowa wrestler Spencer Lee withdraws from 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials

The 125-pounder tore the ACL in his left knee prior to winning his third NCAA title last weekend.

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Mar 20, 2021; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes wrestler Spencer Lee is introduced prior to the championship match of the 125 weight class against Arizona State Sun Devils wrestler Brandon Courtney during the finals of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Enterprise Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Read, Pregame Editor


For the second time in as many years, Spencer Lee’s Olympic dreams will have to wait.

Lee, the Iowa wrestling program’s three-time national champion 125-pounder, announced Friday on Twitter that he will not compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials, which will be held April 2-3 in Fort Worth, Texas. Lee won his third national title on March 20 despite tearing the ACL in his left knee eight days before the start of the national tournament.

“With careful consideration, I have made the difficult decision to withdraw from the United States Olympic Trials,” Lee said in a written statement released on Twitter. “It is not an easy decision, but after consulting with my coaches, family, brothers, and medical staff, I know it is the right decision.”

Shortly after leaving the mat in St. Louis as a three-time champion, Lee revealed that he competed at the national meet despite having two torn ACLs. The Murrysville, Pennsylvania, native previously tore his right ACL in high school and re-injured that knee in the 2019 NCAA finals.

While wrestling on two bad knees, Lee went 5-0 and outscored his opponents 59-8 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis. He defeated Arizona State’s Brandon Courtney 7-0 in the finals match. Lee’s performance led Iowa to its first national title since 2010.

“I didn’t want to tell anyone because F excuses,” Lee said after his final match when he revealed what he had to go through to win. “Excuses are for wusses. That was a tough tournament for me. I could barely wrestle. I could barely shoot. I can’t sprawl. I believed in my coaching staff and everyone that believed in me and here I am so here you guys go.”

Lee has not offered a timeline for his recovery, or disclosed any surgery he may undergo.

The reigning Hodge Trophy winner, who may be looking at his second Hodge Trophy after his 2020-21 performance, is on a 35-match winning streak and will carry that into the 2021-22 season. By winning in St. Louis, Lee became the seventh three-time champion in program history.

Next season, Lee will return to Iowa and go for his fourth title, something only four wrestlers have ever done. Winning four titles has been a goal for Lee ever since he arrived in Iowa City. But so has winning gold at the Olympics.

RELATED: ‘Excuses are for wusses’: Spencer Lee wins third consecutive national title after year-long wait

That goal was put on hold last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic led to the International Olympic Committee postponing the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games to 2021. That led to USA Wrestling pushing trials from April of 2020 to next week.

Lee qualified for the Olympic Trials in Dec. 2019 after winning the U.S. Senior men’s freestyle national championships. But now Lee will have to wait until the 2024 Olympics in France to go for gold.

“I am confident we will create a path that allows for a stronger and healthy return to competition,” Lee said. “I cherish every opportunity I have to step on the mat with my brothers. We overcame adversity together and we won a national title together. I have been blessed with unconditional support at the University of Iowa, and I will offer the same to my teammates and coaches as they pursue Olympic gold medals while representing the United States in Tokyo. Go Team USA!”

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