Wrestling: Zimmerman’s Nielsen, ranked No. 7 nationally, focused on 2012 Olympics bid

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Zimmerman wrestler Zac Nielsen, still pursuing his Olympic dream, is home for a couple months before resuming the big push for 2012.

“The next thing I’m working for is the Olympic Trials,” said Nielsen, hearkening to next April in Iowa City.

“I made the Olympic Trials in 2008 and I went 2-2 there and got seventh place. I was happy with that. I had barely qualified (for the trials). But this time I am a lot more serious.”

Zac Nielsen

Nielsen, 22, two-time state champion at ZHS, wrestles with the United States Olympic Education Center team at Northern Michigan, where the athletes attend college.

A Greco-Roman style 212-pounder (96 kilograms), ranked No. 7 nationally, his highlight this year is placing first at University Nationals in Akron, Ohio, in April. He had  a bye and three wins and beat a UNOEC teammate in the finals.

At the senior nationals meet in Cleveland later that month, he had a 3-2 record and placed fourth, a solid showing but still a disappointment.

“Fourth was good, but the magic number is third, because then you get compensated,” said Nielsen. “I was doing it for the money. I got fourth there a couple years ago, too.”

He then went 0-2 at the trials for the USA world tournament team in June in Oklahoma City. “I just wasn’t my day,” said Nielsen, who has placed fourth and sixth in previous years.

There’s four ways for a wrestler to qualify for Olympic trials – top seven at senior nationals in Cleveland in late December, top two at University Nationals at Akron in April (the event he won this year), first in junior nationals, or win an NCAA title. In 2008 he placed seventh in the senior nationals.

“I’m not worried about making it to the Olympic Trials,” said Nielsen. “I’m focused on doing well when I get to the Olympic Trials.”

Nielsen spent June at Olympic headquarters in Colorado Springs. Since then has been home running, weightlifting, doing yoga, and “listening to my body” with regard to nutrition.

Majoring in German Studies, Nielsen has a year and a semester left. His long-term goal is to come back to Minnesota and coach wrestling.