Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics·PAN AM GAMES

Korey Jarvis scores freestyle wrestling bronze, but is building to something bigger

Canadian freestyle wrestler Korey Jarvis won a bronze medal on Saturday, defeating Peru's Andreus Gunning by a 7-0 decision at the Pan American Games. But the aim here for the 32-year-old from Elliot Lake, Ont., was always to build his momentum toward world championships, and book his place at the Olympics.

Elliot Lake, Ont. native takes 2nd career Pan Am medal in 125kg division

Canada's Korey Jarvis celebrates after defeating Puerto Rico's Marcos Santos in the mens freestyle wrestling 125kg quarter-finals at the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru on Saturday. Jarvis went on to capture a bronze medal at the event. (Carlos Osorio for CBC Sports)

LIMA, Peru — Canadian freestyle wrestler Korey Jarvis won a bronze medal on Saturday, defeating Peru's Andreus Gunning by a 7-0 decision in front of a deafeningly loud crowd at the Pan American Games.

"It was loud, I'm glad they didn't boo me," Jarvis says. "[Gunning] is fighting for a lot, so he came out firing and was ready to go, so I kind of underestimated him a bit.

"It's nice that the crowd was out here supporting their athletes and he wrestled well [but] I think experience won in that one."

The 32-year-old from Elliot Lake, Ont., started off his tournament with an 11-0 quarter-final victory by technical superiority over Puerto Rico's Marcos Santos.

The Canadian then dropped his semifinal match by the same score to the eventual gold medallist, American Nicholas Gwiazdowski, sending Jarvis to the bronze-medal match against Gunning.

Canada's Korey Jarvis (right) defeated Peru's Andreus Gunning in the bronze-medal match of the men's freestyle wrestling 125kg at the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru on Saturday. (Carlos Osorio for CBC Sports)

It's his second career Pan Am medal in the 125kg freestyle division, after taking silver in Toronto in 2015.

But the aim here for Jarvis was always to build his momentum toward world championships, and book his place at the Olympics.

"The ultimate goal is to get a medal at the Olympic Games. That's what I'm training for, to get a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Games," he says.

"We're always building forward. Obviously, I would've liked to have a better match with the American because he is the one I need to beat [for Olympic qualification]."

Valuable veteran presence

This may be Jarvis's third appearance at the Pan Am Games, but the experience of competing for Canada and being surrounded by other athletes in other sports never gets old for him.

"It's always a good opportunity as an athlete to go to these multi-sport events, you feel like it's more of a community — It's not just wrestlers," he says. "We can go out and watch some of the other Team Canada athletes and you cheer them on…it's nice to travel and see other parts of the world [and] meet a tonne of different athletes and be able to watch them compete and put everything on the line, like you're doing."

Canadian wrestling head coach Tonya Verbeek says Jarvis's experience at major events like Pan Ams and the Olympics is a valuable asset for his fellow wrestlers, who brought home five medals to go with Jarvis's bronze.

Canada's Korey Jarvis (left) defeated Puerto Rico's Marcos Santos (right) in the quarterfinals at the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru on Saturday. (Carlos Osorio for CBC Sports)

"Korey has a quite a bit of experience in terms of the Games so that's an advantage that we have with him on the team," she says. "[He's] a role model for the other athletes that are attending and he knows what to expect.

"That's been very helpful for himself, for his personal performance and for our team."

The state of the sport

It wasn't so long ago that wrestling was in danger of being dropped from the Olympic programme.

Jarvis says wrestling's governing body has made important changes to grow one of the oldest sports contested at the Summer Games since it faced exile in 2013.

"They've done a good job of upgrading the tourneys, making a ranking series, highlighting a lot of the semifinals and finals matches where they have walkouts, a little bit of lights and smoke where viewers can appreciate it," he says. "They've tried to make adjustments on the rules to make it viewer-friendly, they've done a really good job of broadcasting things over the internet so it does bring a fanbase to it.

Canada's Korey Jarvis poses with a fan after defeating Peru’s Andreus Gunning in the bronze-medal match at the Pan Am Games. (Carlos Osorio for CBC Sports)

"I think that's what wrestling was missing. When your sponsors want to see these big crowds and you're not getting them, that's why I think wrestling was kind of on the chopping block, it didn't have the fanbase, it didn't have the followers. And now that its growing, it's a great thing they've [accomplished] in the last six years."

Verbeek says while the sport is growing, there is still plenty of work to do since most people seem to only notice their athletes during multi-sport games like the Olympics.

"People are aware of our success in several previous Games...every Olympics and every worlds we are successful. We make our mark but at the same time we could always do a better job to stand behind our athletes and amateur sports.

"I think sometimes we get excited, every two years at the Winter and Summer Olympics, but throughout the career of these amateur athletes there's a lot of time and commitment they put in to become successful. I think sometimes that isn't recognized [at events] as obvious as an Olympics or a Pan American Games."

Representing Canada on the world stage

With the sport's place on the Olympic programme secure, Jarvis can focus on what he loves the most about wrestling: wearing the Maple Leaf on the biggest stage in the world. It's an honour as well as a privilege, Jarvis says, one that he takes seriously every time he laces up his boots.

"That's what I strive for, to represent my country, to represent family, and represent my sport. It means a lot [since] I have a lot of support from people who are sponsoring me, the Canadian government is paying me to represent my country through the athlete assistance program and obviously my coaches and training partners that are taking the time to help me get me to where I am.

Canada's Korey Jarvis smiles after receiving his bronze medal on Saturday. (Carlos Osorio for CBC Sports)

"I don't take that lightly. If it wasn't for them I wouldn't be in the spot that I am, so I'm very proud to be a Canadian and happy to go and represent my country."

Jarvis says he hopes his success encourages younger Canadian athletes to 

"I was just out there on the podium, and seeing our flag right up there with all the other ones, it's an inspiration, hopefully, for some people back home to go out and follow your dream."

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