After a suspension eliminated her competitor for an Olympic berth, a University of Alberta coach and former Olympian will have the opportunity to return to the Games this summer in London.
Ali Bernard, an assistant coach with the U of A’s wrestling team, was named by USA Wrestling to be the country’s nominee in the 72 kg women’s freestyle event. At 26 years old, Bernard competed in the 2008 summer games in Beijing where she finished in fifth place in the same freestyle event. Bernard hopes her experience can help her succeed in 2012.
“You step on the mat shellshocked the first time. I remember when I stepped on back in ‘08 and I was freaking out. Now that I’ve had that experience I think that it’s a big advantage,” Bernard explained.
Bernard has enjoyed an illustrious international career up to this point, but she’s adamant in her belief that this will be her last Olympics and likely one of her last international events before she focuses solely on the field of coaching.
“I’m really looking for that medal this year,” she said. “I’m pushing myself that extra mile at practice, and I really want to go home with the medal. It’s going to be my last shot at it.”
Originally from New Ulm, Minnesota, Bernard also has international experience as a two-time Junior World champion in 2003 and 2005, and won the University World Championships gold medal this year. She also qualified the USA for the 72 kg class freestyle event for this year’s Olympics when she won the bronze medal at the 2011 World Championships.
After finishing second at Olympic trials to Stephany Lee, Bernard thought her hopes at returning to the Olympics were dashed. However, Lee was suspended for one year by the US Anti Doping Agency after testing positive for tetrahydrocannabinol acid, a marijuan metabolite.
The USADA ruled that Lee would forfeit her result to Bernard as a result of this, her second suspension. Despite her surprise qualification, Bernard remains confident in how her abilities stack up against her competition.
“I think that I can medal, and I think that I can win it. There’s no one that I haven’t either been close to beating or beaten. If I come prepared to wrestle, I think I could do well,” she said.
“At (the World Championships) last year most of the same girls were there, I wrestled pretty much everyone who’s qualified for the Games or I’ve seen them wrestle. It’s a chance for me to do something great.”
Bernard will also be resisting the additional setback of a recent surgery to repair a fractured fibula, but she claims she’s back at 100 per cent now, complete with a strenuous training schedule.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” she said. “We have 7:00 practices and 10:00. practices, and then I have a run at 3:00 and then practice again at 6 p.m. Training lasts pretty much all day.”
In addition to the rigourous training, Bernard is taking advantage of her experience as a coach at the U of A as she prepares for the Olympics.
She transferred her knowledge and experience as a five-time CIS gold medal winner at the University of Regina and U of A to coach at the U of A, leading the Pandas to their first CIS team championship in 2011 and their first Canada West team championship in 2012.
“When I shifted from competing to coaching, I learned a lot about technique and how to break it down. I realized little things that I was doing wrong as I coached the girls,” Bernard said. “I improved little things like that. It was a great opportunity to train there; it pushed me everyday.”
Now, despite the circumstances surrounding her place on the team, Bernard is excited for her Olympic return and for improving on her 2008 finish.
“You don’t get this opportunity doing anything else,” Bernard said. “It’s a great experience: it’s the top of my sport with nothing higher, so to be competing at the top level of something you do is a spectacular feeling.”
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