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Four years ago in Beijing, BC native Carol Huynh catapulted to success when she made history with Canada's first gold medal in women's wrestling and the first Canadian gold of the games. During the London Olympic Games, Huynh captured a bronze medal with a victory in the women's 48 kg freestyle over Senegal's Isabelle Sambou.
Huynh said it felt great to have won bronze, but wished she'd done better. "Obviously, I'd prefer to be on the top of the podium, but it didn't work out that way this time."
Huynh at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Photo credit: Canadian Olympic Team.
What advice does she have for aspiring young Canadian Olympians?
“Enjoy your sport. You have to make sure that it doesn't totally consume you.”
“My mantra has been courage and confidence. That's been with me for the last seven years now. When you're at an elite level, everyone is fit, everyone is strong and what is going to set you apart is what goes on in your head.”
Wrestling roots in Hazelton, BC
Huynh was the first of her family born in Canada. Her father was born in China but raised in Vietnam while her mother's family immigrated to Vietnam from China. The two families settled down in a Chinese neighborhood in Vietnam.
“I was always kind of confused as a kid growing up because I knew that my parents came from Vietnam as refugees but I grew up knowing that I was Chinese. When I came to Canada, we were Chinese-Canadian rather than Vietnamese-Canadian,” Huynh said.
Hazelton is comprised of three different towns and reserves. She grew up in the New Hazelton district and had a carefree childhood where one of her favorite memories would be going down to the basketball court where all the neighborhood kids would gather to make teams, she said.
Every summer, boys and girls of all ages would play in outside until it was too dark to see the ball.
"[Hazelton] was a place where I could be myself. I love sports so much.” Huynh was an avid basketball player. It was her favorite sport until she found wrestling.
Huynh started her wrestling career in high school when Joe Sullivan, her eighth grade biology teacher and girls' wrestling coach, encouraged her to try the sport.
Huynh's older sister was one of the first two girls on the wrestling team at the time, and was pivotal in drawing Huynh and her little sister into the sport.
"Being an avid athlete, I decided to try it out, especially since my older sister was on the wrestling team before me,” she said. Once the sisters were in, they enjoyed the experience of competing and being part of a team.
Canadian women wrestlers proved themselves over the last decade
When Huynh started her wrestling career, she was one of the few female wrestlers on the circuit.
"I did feel like it was something different. This is something that girls don't normally do. However, when I joined, my older sister had already started and I joined with a lot of my athletic girl friends and my younger sister. The path was paved for us. My coach was also a huge women's wrestling advocate.”
Huynh, who is 5'1, felt as if wrestling offered her a chance to prove her physical and mental strength, “I'm not a very big person. I'm a girl, but being able to go out there and compete in a sport like wrestling, I felt empowered.”
Further on into her career, she acknowledged that she sometimes felt as if women weren't really accepted in the sport yet. Women's wrestling hasn't been around nearly as long as men's wrestling, and in Hunyh's view it took the male wrestling community a while to accept that women wrestlers were real and that they had the ability to train and compete like the men did.
Hunyh stressed that since then Canadian women wrestlers have been hugely successful on the international stage over these past ten years.
Coaching ambitions for 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil
Now that Huynh has successfully established herself as a champion in women’s wrestling, she has plans to build up young Canadian talent in the sport.
She wants more young female athletes to realize that they can do a sport like wrestling and that there is a sport for women that involves contact and aggressiveness.
Will Huynh be at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil?
“Perhaps as a coach," she said. "Right now I just want to enjoy the moment and what has happened in this Olympic Games. I am still enjoying the sport and I am going to continue training but I am branching off into more coaching in the next year."
Her plans for the upcoming year include working with the Jr. Dino wrestling program in Calgary and coaching the University of Calgary team.
For her, it is important to demonstrate that women can wrestle, and have fun at the sport.