B.C. native Carol Huynh used her lightning-fast attack to win gold in Beijing
Two months before the Beijing Games, Canada’s national team coach used the word "dangerous" to describe Carol Huynh.
Looking at the five-foot-one, 115-pound wrestler, it seemed hard to believe.
"Other coaches who know Carol, they’re scared of her as a wrestler," Leigh Vierling said. "They really are."
Those who saw her win Canada’s first gold medal of the Olympic Games will know why.
The 27-year-old Hazelton, B.C., native, known for her lightning-fast attack and quickness on the mat, went at her opponent immediately in the 48-kilogram weight class final on Saturday.
Huynh didn’t think about the fact that she was up against the reigning and three-time world champion. She didn’t think about the fact that Japan’s Chiharu Icho had been to the Games before, had won silver in Athens.
Icho won almost every international event since the Athens Games, while Huynh had only two senior championships to her credit, most recently the 2007 Pan-American Games. Icho was the odds-on favourite to win.
But Huynh attacked, and led from start to finish.
"I knew I wanted to go in with supreme confidence in my abilities and not doubting myself one second," a smiling Huynh said after the medal ceremony Saturday. "That's what I did, and I wrestled the match of my life, and it was awesome."
After the referee held her arm up to indicate she had won, Huynh buried her face in her hands and then ran over to hug her coach. Members of the crowd passed her a Canadian flag and then Vierling hoisted her on his shoulders and paraded her around the China Agricultural University Gymnasium.
She wasn't the favourite, but it was clear early in the gold medal match that Huynh had the edge.
She didn’t even let Icho get on the board in the first period en route to her 4-0, 2-1 victory. It was her fourth straight win Saturday, a run that saw her surrender only four points, compared to the 19 she scored.
That’s typical for Huynh when she's performing to her potential, her coach says.
"When she's wrestling her best, she is very, very quick, very tricky to wrestle," Vierling said. "People have a hard time getting a handle on her. Carol is someone you can't relax on, because the second you do, she'll pick you apart."
Despite her abilities, Huynh's first reaction to her victories in both the semis and finals was to cover her mouth in awe.
"I'm just, I'm speechless," she said after her semifinal win Saturday. "I don't know what to say. I've been dreaming of this moment for a long time and it's here. I'm just so proud to be Canadian."
Family members watching
Hours later she became the first Canadian woman to win Olympic gold. She did so in front of a crowd that included her husband, her siblings and her parents.
"I knew they were basically right in the front row there, and knowing that in the back of my mind was such a good feeling," said Huynh, smiling. "This year hasn’t been all that different from training for worlds until I came here, and seeing everybody here, I think this is the big difference. There’s so many people here and it’s just amazing to see such support."
Nowhere has she felt more support than in Hazelton, where fundraisers were held in her honour to assist with her Olympic endeavour.
"I just wanted to say thank you guys so much," she said, speaking to the people of Hazelton. "You basically raised an Olympian."
As the Canadian anthem played for the first time at the Beijing Games, Huynh stood on the podium singing, the gold medal around her neck, tears in her eyes.
Then there was no wiping the smile off her face.
"This is unbelievable," she said, looking at the crowd. "I’m having such a fabulous time. This is so cool."