Chris Reith, Wrestling Canada
July 21, 2021
UCalgary’s legacy of elite wrestling continues at Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Update: Erica Wiebe was eliminated in the first round to Epp Mae of Estonia. Danielle Lappage was eliminated after a quarter-finals loss to Khanum Velieva of the Russian Olympic Committee.
One day after practice, Paul Ragusa gets the attention of the wrestlers of the UCalgary Dinos varsity and club teams.
The coach poses a single question to the group: "How many world medalists are in the room right now?"
Then he asks for a quick show of hands — and counts eight.
"At one club at one time. Where else are you going to see that anywhere else in the world?" recalled Ragusa. "Sometimes we take that for granted. I don't think everyone in that room really realized it at that time. They knew it ... but to highlight it for them (was worthwhile).
"Over the years, we've been able to develop a lot of great athletes and world performers and Olympic medalists."
The UCalgary campus has been — and continues to be — a hotbed of wrestling and a proven training ground for the international stage.
Representing at Tokyo 2020 Olympics
At the Olympics in Tokyo, two of Canada's four wrestlers have significant ties to the Dinos. Erica Wiebe competed for the varsity side while earning a Bachelor of Kinesiology and a Bachelor of Arts. And Danielle Lappage, a 2021 graduate of the UCalgary Faculty of Law, is a member of the on-site club team.
"Certainly it's good currency on campus, all the way up to the president's office, to have Olympic performers coming from the program," said coach Mitch Ostberg. "Dinos Athletics and Dinos Wrestling are contributing strongly to the image of UCalgary as a world-class institution."
Ostberg, heading into his 28th season at UCalgary, has guided the varsity women to five national championships. The Dinos men and women have combined for 15 Canada West titles.
Competitive environment brings athletes to UCalgary
Quality coaching explains some of the achievement. So does ready access to cutting-edge sport science on campus.
An appealingly competitive environment, however, may play the largest role.
Calgary happens to be the site of one of four National Team Centres for Wrestling Canada Lutte — Montreal, Vancouver, St. Catherines, Ont., are the others — so elite performers often end up congregating in this city, competing for the Dinos' varsity group or their club side.
"Extremely high bar ... every day in practice," said Ragusa, who serves as coach for the national team and the UCalgary club. "We have a lot of athletes come here because ... they want to win a world championship, they want to win an Olympic medal. If you get athletes who have those kinds of goals ... you get athletes who are driven to perform."
Meaning the old saying, that success begets success, is alive on campus. The Dinos' roster of excellence runs deep.
A roster of excellence
Wiebe, who won gold in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, and Lappage are two-time qualifiers for the Olympics. Leah Callahan, who is a former varsity Dino with a Bachelor of Arts, advanced to the 2012 Olympics in London.
Carol Huynh, who won gold in 2008 Beijing and bronze in London, belonged to the Dinos club and is now on-site as a national-team coach. Jasmine Mian, a student and teacher at UCalgary, qualified for the 2016 Olympics.
Ari Taub, a member of the Dinos club, wrestled in Beijing. Another club member, Nico Jacobs, competed at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
"It makes it possible to dream the biggest dream, the gold medal," said Ostberg, "because we have these examples of how it's done, how it's been done, and we're hoping it can be done again."
When the legendary Christine Nordhagen — a University of Alberta graduate and the winner of six world titles — relocated to Calgary to teach school here, she made the most of her influence, coaching on campus and helping out with recruitment.
Ostberg recalls Nordhagen sending a hand-written note to some youngster in Stittsville, Ont., telling her great things about the Dinos. That happened to be Wiebe.
"The personal letter from Christine spoke to this kid," he said. "And (now) Erica Wiebe will have a profound effect — and so will Danielle — on the performance of our program, the success of the Dinos, by their presence and by talking to kids.
"It's been a great legacy."