The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Former Iowa men’s wrestler Spencer Lee wins Olympic Team Trials

Lee will now head to the World Olympic Games Qualifier in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 11-12. He needs to finish in the top three to officially punch his ticket to Paris.
Dan Rainville / USA TODAY NETWOR
Thomas Gilman (left) wrestles Spencer Lee in the 57 kilogram best-of-three championship series during the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at the Bryce Jordan Center April 20, 2024, in State College. Lee won the first bout, 6-3.

Spencer Lee is one step closer to representing the United States in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The former Iowa wrestler and current Hawkeye Wrestling Club member won the Olympic Team Trials at 57 kg on Saturday.

Under normal circumstances, Lee would have earned Olympian status by winning this weekend’s tournament. But since the U.S. has yet to qualify for the Olympics at 57 kg, Lee will now head to the World Olympic Games Qualifier in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 11-12. He needs to finish in the top three to officially punch his ticket to Paris.

To qualify a weight, a country needs one of its wrestlers to either place in the top five at last year’s world championships, place in the top two at one of this year’s four continental tournaments (Pan American, European, Asian, African/Oceania), or place in the top three at next month’s world qualifier in Turkey.

Lee received a bye in the first two rounds of the Olympic Team Trials held in State College, Pennsylvania. He defeated Nico Megaludis, 8-0, in the quarterfinals and Zane Richards, 13-6, in the semifinals. This set up a best-of-three final between Lee and former Hawkeye wrestler Thomas Gilman. Lee won the first match, 6-3, and then pinned Gilman in 5:58 in the second bout.

Gilman, a 2020 Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist, went 107-12 in his four seasons at Iowa and then joined the Penn State Wrestling Club.

“I told him when we hugged, ‘I always looked up to you,'” Lee said after his second match against Gilman, via PAPowerWrestle on X, formerly Twitter. “We were teammates. Even though he’s a Nittany Lion right now — that’s OK. Hawkeye for life.”

Lee’s journey

Lee will forever be remembered as one of the best Iowa grapplers to take the mat, but his path to greatness has been filled with adversity.

Lee clinched his second NCAA title in 2019, but during the championship bout, he reinjured his right ACL that he’d torn as a senior at Franklin Regional High School in 2017. Lee decided to opt out of surgery and keep competing.

In the 2021 Big Ten Championship match against Purdue’s Devin Schroder, Lee tore his left ACL. He battled through the pain, earning a 21-5 technical fall to claim his second Big Ten title and Big Ten Wrestler of the Year honor.

Lee said there was no hesitation in his decision to continue to wrestle. He cruised through the 2021 NCAA Championships with no healthy ACLs and shut out Arizona State’s Brandon Courtney, 7-0, for his third NCAA title.

Then, Lee announced on Jan. 1, 2022, that he would undergo season-ending surgery to repair both knees. After what Lee called a “long and arduous” journey of rehab, he made his 2022-23 debut against Iowa State on Dec. 12, 2022.

Lee went on to win another conference title with hopes of becoming Iowa’s first-ever four-time national champion. Those hopes came crashing down when Purdue’s Matt Ramos pulled off one of the biggest upsets in collegiate wrestling history and pinned Lee in 6:59 in the NCAA semifinals. Lee medically forfeited from the medal round and placed sixth at 125 pounds to end his collegiate career.

Although Lee came up short of his fourth national title, he’s always had bigger goals to achieve.

“My career is mainly focused on freestyle. People forget that,” Lee said at Iowa’s annual media day on Oct. 27, 2022.  “I’ve even had people ask me, ‘What are you going to do after college?’ To me, it’s like, I can’t even believe you asked me that.”

Lee said when he first wrote down his goals, nine-time world champion and three-time Olympic gold medalist topped the list. Lee has not gotten the opportunity to compete internationally since he won his third age-group world championship in 2016 at age 17.

He was supposed to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which was pushed back to 2021 because of the pandemic. But with two torn ACLs, Lee decided to take that time to pursue alternative rehabs for his knees.

With the help of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, he’s made his way back to the mat, and soon, the international scene. In April 2023, Lee signed a five-year contract with the club that will take him through the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, per FloWrestling. Lee’s first matches after college came at the 2023 Bill Farrell and 2023 Senior Nationals, where he won gold at both by going a combined 7-0 and outscoring his opponents 67-7.

For Lee, qualifying for the Paris Olympics would be “really cool.” France is the home country of his mother, Cathy Lee, who was a judo wrestler and alternate for the Olympic Games in 1992. Lee said he has a lot of family in France that has never seen him compete in person.

“If it wasn’t for the Iowa Hawkeye program supporting me, I’d probably be retired to be honest with you guys,” Lee said after advancing to the world qualifier in Turkey. “I’ve had such a tough time staying healthy and trying to compete to the best of my ability. You know, I’m still not healthy. But I’m healthy enough to wrestle hard.”

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About the Contributor
Kenna Roering
Kenna Roering, Sports Editor
Kenna Roering is The Daily Iowan's sports editor. She is a junior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism with a minor in sports and recreation management. Kenna previously worked as a sports reporter for men's wrestling and volleyball and was the summer sports editor in 2023. This is her second year with the DI.