by Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
FARGO, N.D. – Harry Lester has captivated fans around the World with his explosive, in-your-face style of wrestling.
He also is one of the classiest and nicest young men you will ever meet.
The two-time World bronze medalist was upset in the semifinals of last month’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials by Jake Deitchler. The 24-year-old Lester came back to place third before taking his shoes off and retiring after what turned out to be his last match.
Lester is in Fargo to help coach wrestlers from his native Ohio at the Junior and Cadet Nationals. He is a native of Akron, Ohio. Lester was a Cadet and Junior National champion during his days in high school.
Lester has made the last three U.S. World Teams in Greco-Roman wrestling at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. He was a member of the historic 2007 U.S. squad that won the World Championships team title for the first time in American history.
Lester sat down for a short interview with USA Wrestling’s Craig Sesker on Saturday morning.
What have you been up to in the last month since the Olympic Trials ended?
I’ve just been kicking back, relaxing, hanging out, fishing, swimming, going to the beach. Just taking it easy basically.
How much of a relief is to be done competing?
It’s a pretty big relief. I don’t have to watch my weight now. I feel good. I just pretty much eat whatever I want now.
It’s been just over a month since you retired. Are you comfortable with that decision?
Oh definitely, I’m comfortable with it. I’m still going to be working out and helping the guys at Northern Michigan. I will be in the room working out. I’m just not going to compete anymore.
What will be your role here in Fargo?
I’m helping coach some of these young kids from Ohio that are wrestling here. I loved it when I came here to wrestle in Fargo. I grew up looking up to guys like Joe Heskett. I just decided instead of sitting at home doing nothing that I would come up here and help some of these young guys.
Is coaching something you want to pursue?
Definitely. I want to stay around wrestling and stay involved with the sport. I would like to coach at a club and do something similar to what Sean Bormet is doing at his club (in suburban Chicago). I want to do something where I can have all age groups and all skill levels come in to train.
You were asked at the Olympic Trials why you would retire at age 24. What led you to that decision?
It was a combination of a lot of factors. The weight cutting, the travel, all the wear and tear on your body. It was time to step away. My body is falling apart. A lot of people said take a year off and then see if you still want to wrestle. Maybe in a year or two I will get that urge to come back, but for now it’s just not there.
When you took your shoes off after finishing third at the Olympic Trials, did you know before the match you were going to do that?
Yes, I did know I was going to do that. It was a rough year and I knew this was probably going to be it. Even if I would have gone to Beijing, this likely would have been it for me after the Olympics.
You were so close to winning a World title last year, how hard has it been to not be on the Olympic Team?
I see all the articles on all the Olympians and all the attention they’ve received. I’ve talked to T.C. (Dantzler) and Dremiel (Byers), and they’re obviously preparing for Beijing. I miss the camaraderie among the guys who were on the World Team with me. But I lost a match and it happened. T.C. is like my older brother – I miss being there with him. Every guy on the U.S. team, I’m pulling for all of those guys to win at the Olympics. I hope they do well.
Your good friend and former teammate Spenser Mango made the Greco-Roman Olympic Team at 55 kg/121 lbs. How excited are you for him and what are his chances at the Olympics?
He’s Showtime, that’s what we call him. I can’t even put into words how excited I am for Spenser. His parents are here and his little brother is here. I can’t wait to see how he does. I think he can win a gold medal. He’s an offensive machine, and he has good defense.
How many doors has wrestling opened for you?
I’ve been to a lot of places I never even dreamed about going to. I’ve met so many great people because of my involvement in this sport. I’ve had so many opportunities and it’s been great. I’ve made friends I’ll have for the rest of my life.
In the match with Jake Deitchler at the Olympic Trials, what do you think the difference was?
I didn’t wrestle my match. I was a little overaggressive and he was good at picking that apart. He just wrestled a great match. I still felt strong throughout the match. I just chased him when I shouldn’t have chased him. He basically turned my strength into my weakness, I guess.
With the success of young guys like Deitchler, in addition to the USOEC program developing so many young guys, how important is that for Greco-Roman wrestling in the U.S.?
That’s what we need in this country. Nothing against the older guys, but we need younger guys to make these teams at a younger age to help our depth and help the quality of our program. These young guys are ready to make an impact right now.