IOWA CITY - Brent Metcalf had just finished his college career when he shared his goals for international competition.
After capping an outstanding college career with the University of Iowa in 2010 by winning his second NCAA championship in three finals appearances, Metcalf said Tom Brands (1996) had won an Olympic title, Dan Gable (1972) won an Olympic title but he needed to win two. The statement was partially meant to needle them, but it also represents his desire to be the best.
“When you think about it, you want to win as many as you can. I see myself being able to compete now and again in 2016, for sure,” Metcalf said. “Tom Brands is our bar. Dan Gable is our bar. I want to be the new bar. Every one of these guys should want to be the new bar. That’s really a mentality thing.”
Metcalf will take another step in an attempt to raise that bar when he competes in the 145.5-pound weight class of the men’s freestyle division of the USA Wrestling’s Olympic Wrestling Team Trials on April 21-22 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Wrestlers in men’s and women’s freestyle and Greco-Roman will contend for spots on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team and a chance to compete in the Olympic Games this summer in London, England.
“I guess it’s just a matter of step one is getting on that team,” said Metcalf, a 2010 U.S. World Team member who was second to Teyon Ware in the 2011 U.S. World Team Trials. “I’ve got to beat the best guys in America, and then looking forward to beating the best guys in the world.”
As a Hawkeye and member of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, Metcalf is used to the high expectations that accompany those in the program. It prepares them for big moments, like the Olympic Trials. Those standards help them embrace the challenge and make the most of the chance that comes around once every four years.
“That’s how we talk around here,” Metcalf said. “That’s how much we believe in ourselves. It’s not a cocky thing. It’s a self-belief and just an expectation.”
He can see the Olympic rings on the wall of the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex and the pictures of former Hawkeyes, listing their international accomplishments. He joked with Iowa head coach Tom Brands that he wanted so many accomplishments that they covered the image of his face.
“It becomes a competitive nature in you, because you see it and you want to be a part of that, too,” Metcalf said. “You talk about the history of the program, and moving forward and creating more history.”
Metcalf said this is his first real shot at the Olympic Team despite competing in the 2008 Trials. He said he wasn't quite ready at that moment. Iowa assistant coach and former U.S. team coach Terry Brands disagreed.
"He was probably the No. 1 guy I was concerned with," Terry Brands said. "Looking back on it, where I'm at, I'm thinking maybe we left out there with him."
Brands certainly likes the position Metcalf has put himself in this time.
"He's on track," Terry Brands said. "We're going to be ready to go."
Metcalf said he's made the biggest stride by getting to his offensive earlier and finishing his moves with more urgency. A physical wrestler in college, who routinely broke opponents, he's incorporated some flash to help with quicker finishes.
"You break a guy by putting points on the board, so you can break your guy if you score six points in a minute," Metcalf said. “That’s really the root of what I’ve been working on. Now I’m taking what I learned to do in seven minutes and do it in two minutes and do it again in two minutes.”
He has had success, winning gold in an Olympic Test tournament at London in December. He also earned a silver in the Pan-Am Games, qualifying the United States for the Olympic Games at his weight. Now he wants to be the one benefiting from his performance in Florida.
“I’m glad to have that off my back, because I expect to be the guy,” Metcalf said. “I went and took care of business for myself.”
Metcalf finds additional inspiration from the memory of his late brother, Chase, who died in a car accident shortly after he enrolled in college. He said he has a reminder of him in his car and thinks about him nearly every day.
They shared a passion for wrestling, including the NCAA Championships and Olympic Games. Chase Metcalf didn't get to witness his brother's college dominance and international success.
“To me the biggest thing, with his memory, is how proud he would have been and how big of a deal this would have been for him,” Metcalf said. “It motivates me to know that he’s watching me and know that he’d be very proud of where I’m at today. I just hope to continue to make him proud.”
The 25-year-old Metcalf is among a group of young upstart international wrestlers for the United States, including 2011 163-pound World Champion Jordan Burroughs, 25, and 26-year-old Jake Varner, who earned bronze at last year's World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. Metcalf said it could be a sign of a resurgence for American wrestlers in freestyle. They would have to share the same goals as Metcalf.
“I think there is an emphasis on younger guys being very committed to the sport of freestyle wrestling,” Metcalf said. “I think keeping those guys on board for a number of years is a big thing (USA Wrestling) are pushing for. I know it’s my plan to continue wrestling and do well at the Olympic Games and continue to do so.”
The trek begins Sunday when the 145.5 division competes. Metcalf will then have the chance to capture the Olympic Team spot for the berth he secured for the U.S. It also puts him closer to raising the bar for current and future Hawkeyes and joining the likes of Brands and Gable.“It would be one step toward my dream,” Metcalf said. “That’s the gold medal.”