Olympics 2012: Wrestling coach Kerry McCoy still an Olympian at heart

Kerry McCoy had the ultimate celebration planned for his 21st birthday: winning an Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling.

It didn’t quite work out that way. McCoy narrowly missed making the 1996 Olympic team, losing his trials match in a scoreless judges’ decision to the reigning world champion and eventual Olympic champion, Kurt Angle.

McCoy hasn’t missed an Olympic Games since.

McCoy made the 2000 and 2004 teams, finishing fifth and seventh, respectively, and went to Beijing in 2008 as a coach. Now in his fourth season as the wrestling coach at Maryland, McCoy flew to London just in time to see the weigh-ins Thursday before the men’s freestyle wrestling competition Friday.

“From 1992 to 1996, it was, ‘I want to make an Olympic team,’” McCoy said. “From 1996 to 2000, it was, ‘I’m going to make the Olympic team.’”

Making two Olympic teams was the fulfillment of a dream for McCoy in a career that started as a second-choice option. The Long Island, N.Y., native’s first love was basketball.

“I played every day with the other kids in the neighborhood,” McCoy recalled. “We had a rim nailed to a piece of plywood nailed to a tree in our front yard.”

McCoy was able to play organized sports starting in seventh grade, but there was no basketball team. His only choices were track and wrestling. On the urging of a friend, McCoy chose wrestling.

“I thought wrestling was like WWE — Hulk Hogan and Jimmy Superfly,” McCoy said. “I didn’t know that wasn’t real. My first day at practice, I saw all these mats on the floor. I was looking for a ring and thinking about what my costume was going to be.”

The wrestling coach had the team start off by running, and at some point during his laps around the gym, McCoy realized he was where he belonged.

McCoy attended Penn State and won two NCAA championships in the heavyweight division. He finished college with a 150-18 record, wrestling at weights from 264 to 286 pounds. Although he finished off the podium in his two Olympic Games, McCoy does have two medals. He won silver at the 2003 World Championships and gold at the 2003 Pan American Games.

McCoy began his coaching career as an assistant at Penn State, where he spent three years, before becoming an assistant at Lehigh. He left Lehigh after five years to become the head coach at Stanford, where he spent three years before heading to Maryland in 2008.

That same year, he and his wife, Abbie, had their first child, and McCoy was named an Olympic coach. The keys to coaching wrestling in the Olympics, McCoy said, are weight control, strategy and keeping his wrestlers distracted, for lack of a better term.

“We play video games and we go to see other events,” McCoy said. “The key is keeping their mind off their match until it has to be on their match. They need to be able to flip that switch.”

As for the transition from competing to coaching, McCoy said he simply knew when it was time. In addition to his coaching duties with Maryland and the Olympic team, he’s also a member of the USA Wrestling board of directors and the U.S. Olympic Committee athlete advisory council.

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