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O'Connor A Class Above the Rest

By Martin Kessler, Crimson Staff Writer

There was a distinct moment from my wrestling matchup with JP O’Connor ’10 when I realized that the grappler is not a normal human being.

This revelation did not occur when he effortlessly lifted me into the air and twirled me above his head, nor when he pinned me to the ground with his hands tied behind his back. (These things really did happen; video proof can be found tomorrow at TheCrimson.com).

But no, these things did not really surprise me. After all, O’Connor went 35-0 as a senior at Harvard, won the 2010 NCAA national championship, and is currently training for the 2012 Olympics, while I am a nerdy kid who plays fantasy football.

So when I found myself lying on my back just ten seconds into the match with my limbs flailing in the air, I can’t say that I was all that surprised.

In fact, the moment I realized that O’Connor is not a normal human being did not even occur on the wrestling mat—it happened after our “contest” when he was telling me about his post-Harvard life.

One might expect a person training to wrestle in the Olympics to have a pretty jam-packed schedule. But O’Connor takes it to another level.

On top of his own personal training, O’Connor is serving as a volunteer assistant coach for the Harvard wrestling team and is preparing to apply to medical school.

If things go the way O’Connor hopes, he will have a pretty busy next couple of years. The plan as it stands now is to take the MCAT this January, wrestle at the 2011 World Championships this summer, apply to medical school, compete at the 2012 Olympics in London next summer, and then head off to medical school the following fall.

“Hopefully I can apply to school and be ready to go in right after the Olympics in 2012, whether I make it or not,” O’Connor said.

The native of Oxford, N.Y., plans on going into school with an open mind, but if forced to choose now, he would like to study orthopedics with the hope of one day working as a trainer for a professional or college sports team. But now he is still focusing on the first step—getting into school.

While medical schools often accept less than five percent of applicants, the acceptance rate for the U.S. Wrestling team is even lower.

The U.S. will send just 14 male grapplers to London for the 2012 games, one from each of the seven weight classes to compete in the freestyle and Greco Roman events. If O’Connor is to be the 163-pound representative for the freestyle competition, he will have to beat out other hopefuls at the Olympic Trials in May of 2012. The winner of the competition will punch his ticket to London.

While O’Connor is coming off a dominating senior season in which he defeated each of his opponents en rout to the national championship, winning the Olympic Trials will not be a simple task.

For one, O’Connor will have to take on older, more experienced opponents while he tries to make the transition from collegiate style to freestyle wrestling—one of the international techniques used at the Olympics. While the two styles are similar, they have some important differences.

“Collegiate is more about controlling your opponent and dominating your opponent, whereas the international styles are more about exposure,” O’Connor said. “You’re trying to expose your opponent’s back for just a second. There are more explosive techniques and it’s more of a strategical game.”

Helping O’Connor to make the transition is a handful of coaches and wrestlers with a wealth of international experience, including Harvard assistant coaches Muzaffar Abdurakhmanov—a three-time Uzbekistan National Champion—and Sean Harrington—who spent four years at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., after college.

O’Connor is also working with former Crimson wrestler Dustin Denunzio ’99 who served as an alternate on the national team after graduating from Harvard.

While O’Connor has learned a great deal from his mentors, he has also spent time doing some coaching himself. After flying all over the country to teach at wrestling camps last summer, O’Connor returned to Cambridge this fall to work with the Harvard wrestling team while he trains.

“To be honest with you, I’ve always loved helping other guys,” O’Connor said. “When you’re in the wrestling room, you can really feed off of each other… Also, it’s fun to be able to see how the other side of it works.”

But before O’Connor can think of settling into a coaching role, he still has some work to accomplish on his own.

“Priority number one is trying to make the Olympic team for 2012—and studying for the MCAT,” O’Connor said.

—Staff writer Martin Kessler can be reached at martin.kessler@college.harvard.edu.

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