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Penn State’s Frank Molinaro has sights set on Olympic gold

Frank Molinaro, left, takes Logan Stieber to the mat during their 65-kilogram freestyle match at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials, Saturday, April 9, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa.
Frank Molinaro, left, takes Logan Stieber to the mat during their 65-kilogram freestyle match at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials, Saturday, April 9, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa. AP photo

In 2013, the International Olympic Committee announced it would cut wrestling from the 2020 Summer Games; and after an undefeated senior season, leading the Nittany Lions to their second consecutive national title, four-time All-American Frank Molinaro had decided to hang up his singlet.

It’s 2016, and wrestling is back in the 2020 Olympic Games, and Molinaro has earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team.

Seeded ninth going into the U.S. Olympic team trials last weekend in Iowa City, Iowa, Molinaro grinded out victories over No. 1-seed and former Hawkeye Brent Metcalf, four-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber and 2014 Junior World Team champion Aaron Picco to earn that spot.

However, the former Nittany Lion does not have a reservation for Rio de Janeiro just yet. First he has to go to Mongolia next weekend and finish in the top three to qualify the U.S. at the 65-kilogram weight class.

Molinaro said he expects to come out with his ticket stamped.

“I’m excited that I get to compete again two weeks after (U.S. team trials),” he said Friday at the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex inside Rec Hall. “I’m not going to do anything different with my approach, my balance, my mentality. I’m going to continue to focus on the things that have gotten me to this point, continue to make sure that my priorities are straight and make sure I feel good going into the tournament.”

After graduating from Penn State in 2012, Molinaro took a coaching job with the Rutgers program. But his own wrestling career, he decided, was not yet finished.

In 2013, he set his sights on Rio.

“I felt like I left some potential and some opportunity out there; and I started feeling like I was going to regret it,” he said.

Molinaro said he remembers that moment, when made the decision to get back into wrestling with the goal of winning an Olympic gold medal, clearly. He was walking his dog with his wife at their home in New Jersey. After the two of them talked it over, he immediately began thinking about what he needed to do to achieve that goal.

“By the time I got into the house, I was immediately thinking about finishing the year (at Rutgers) strong, and getting back to Penn State, because I knew this was the best place to train,” he said. “Right when I decided that, it was a race to get back here.”

Learning freestyle, Molinaro said in an interview with USA Wrestling, came with a learning curve. But heading into last weekend’s tournament in Iowa, Molinaro said on Friday that he felt the most prepared he’s ever felt.

“That was the first time in my freestyle career when I wasn’t going into the tournament still trying to figure stuff out,” he said. “The work was done, the taper had begun, and it was about peaking. It wasn’t about anticipating problems, but about anticipating how awesome it was going to be to compete.”

Going into the qualifying tournament in Mongolia, Molinaro still feels good. He said that he won’t improve much technically for the April 22-24 tournament, but that preparation is more about keeping healthy and balanced.

Molinaro credits much of his balance to God and to his family.

“We were at dinner last night, and we were laughing because now I’m an Olympian. And we were sitting at that exact same table, eating almost the exact same dinner before, and nothing had changed. I was just as happy sitting there that day as I was before,” he said.

Molinaro returned from Iowa on Monday, and found out Tuesday that he and his wife, Kera, are expecting their second son in August.

If he is unsuccessful in finishing among the top three in Mongolia, Molinaro will have one more shot at a last-chance qualifier May 6-8 in Istanbul, Turkey.

To follow Molinaro’s progress in Mongolia and beyond, watch for updates from his personal Twitter account, @Gorillaahulk149, and from USA Wrestling, @USAWrestling. Updates can also be found at his personal website, www.gorillahulk.com.

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