Iowa wrestling’s Spencer Lee speaks on withdrawal from U.S. Olympic Trials

Lee announced last Friday that he would not compete in the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Mar+20%2C+2021%3B+St.+Louis%2C+Missouri%2C+USA%3B++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%3A+Jeff+Curry-USA+TODAY+Sports

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

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

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor


For the second-straight year, Iowa wrestling’s 125-pound Spencer Lee has put his Olympic dreams on hold.

Typically, the Olympics are only held once every four years. Lee, however, has had to deal with some extraordinary circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2020 Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo, Japan, were postponed March 30, 2020 — soon after the World Health Organization (WHO) characterized coronavirus as a global issue.

So, Lee’s grandest career aspirations would have to wait at least one more year before they materialized.

A little over a year after the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games, Lee announced that he would not be competing in USA Wrestling’s 2021 Olympic Trials.

Once again, Lee’s Olympic hopes were dashed — though this time around, he’ll have to wait more than a year to get his next chance to wrestle for international gold.

“[Withdrawing from the Olympic Trials] was about as hard as you could imagine, I guess,” Lee said Monday. “I always used to say that I would trade anything for an Olympic gold medal. [Head coach Tom Brands] doesn’t like me saying that very much because he doesn’t want you shortchanging winning national titles because they are important and they are hard to win, and I don’t want to put those accomplishments down to myself.”

“It is my dream,” Lee said. “It is my only dream, really. It’s my main dream, I guess you could say, not my only dream. To have it taken away from me basically off my own decision is pretty hard. But I do know that that’s what’s best for me. It’s the decision that we came to, and I believe in our entire staff as a whole. Their decision is final, and it’s the best thing for me, and I agree with them, and it was a decision I also made myself. It was my decision, ultimately, if I wanted to compete, I would be if I thought it was in my best interest, and it wasn’t. So, here I am.”

Lee withdrew from the Olympic Trials because he sustained a knee injury during the latter portion of the 2020-21 season.

In a post-match interview with ESPN, Lee admitted that he had torn his ACL just days prior to the start of the 2021 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.

Despite that, Lee still won a national title, outscoring his tournament opponents, 59-8.

“You know what, you put a lot of thought into [withdrawing from the Olympic Trials],” Brands said. “[Associate head coach] Terry Brands is there, Spencer’s there, Larry and Cathy Lee are there. You put a lot of thought into it, and the bottom line is, you do the best thing for the individual. I know that there is trust both ways. We trust him in a lot more ways than just going out and just representing himself on the mat. We trust him. We trust his family, and I know he trusts us, and I know his family trusts us.”

At his Monday Zoom meeting with reporters, Lee did not reveal any details about his injury, his timetable for recovery, or his treatment plan. Lee simply noted that he had a workout scheduled after the press conference.

“I think Japan is probably one of my favorite countries in the world,” Lee said. “So, it’d be pretty cool to go there. Everyone kinda knows that I really like Japanese culture and a bunch of other things that comes with it. It would’ve been fun [to compete in the Olympics]. It’s gonna be hard to watch, but [I’ll] cheer for Team USA, hope they do their best, bring home some medals, and wait for my time in Paris in 2024 in my mother’s home country. Hopefully my grandmother can watch me wrestle for the first time in Paris at the Olympic Games.”

Despite the current disappointment Lee is experiencing, Brands and company know the senior Hawkeye made the best decision he could have and that his best wrestling still lies ahead.

“His best wrestling is ahead of him, no doubt,” Brands said. “Gotta have him healthy and rejuvenated. It makes a lot of sense to do it this way, if you really look at it.”

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