FILE-Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson shows his gold medal to the crowd during half time of the football game between Iowa State and Northern Illinois, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2004, at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa.
AP Photo: The Ames Tribune / Nir
DES MOINES, Iowa Cael Sanderson figures his future always will involve something around the wrestling mat.
It just might not be on the mat.
Sanderson, the best wrestler in U.S. college history, hasn't competed or trained since winning a gold medal at the Athens Olympics last August. He's not sure when or even if he'll resume.
''I don't know if I'm going to wrestle again,'' Sanderson said.
The drive that carried Sanderson to a 159-0 record and four NCAA championships at Iowa State, to three U.S. national freestyle titles and then to Olympic gold at 185 pounds is being channeled in another direction now.
Sanderson is an assistant coach at Iowa State and he loves it.
''Had I not won (in Athens) it probably would have been a different story,'' he said this week. ''Right now, I'm content coaching. There are new challenges. I've been waking up for so many years with this goal, seeing what I can do that day to get to that goal.
''It's nice to actually change that up a little bit and do something else for a change. I'm having a great time.''
Sanderson is heavily involved in recruiting. What high school wrestler wouldn't be impressed when a guy who never lost in college and won a gold medal walks into the room?
''He's had a tremendous impact on recruiting,'' Iowa State coach Bobby Douglas said Tuesday. ''He's approaching the coaching like he approached the wrestling. He's got a great future ahead of him.''
Iowa State's recruiting class is ranked No. 1 nationally by an Internet wrestling news service. Off the top of his head, while talking on a cell phone at his family's home in Utah, Sanderson was able to recite one detail after another about the newcomers.
He knew that Laramie Shaffer of Winterset was a two-time state champion and fourth on Iowa's career victory list. That Phil O'Loughlin of Gilbertville Don Bosco won his state title at 160 pounds. That Joey DeMarie of Ames scored a 32 or 33 on his ACT, a test on which 36 is perfect.
''Shoot, you spend all year e-mailing and talking to them, you know them pretty well,'' Sanderson said. ''I do enjoy that. I really enjoy the recruiting.''
The Cyclones have one recruit that Sanderson didn't need to do any homework on. His brother, Cyler, a four-time state champion in Utah, will join the team next season. That's one reason Sanderson is unsure about competing again.
''It just depends on my drive,'' he said. ''If I have that competitive drive, if I want to get in there and get after it and compete, I'd wrestle again.
''But now I feel responsible. My brother's coming to school, we've got other recruits coming in. I want to make sure these guys are getting everything we promised them. If I got back into competing, they'd still be my priority and that would be kind of tough.''
While U.S. freestyle teams would be stronger with Sanderson in the lineup, USA Wrestling officials say they understand his desire to do something else.
''Obviously, we'd love to see Cael continue to compete,'' said Rich Bender, the organization's executive director. ''We also love the fact that he's decided to stay involved in the sport. We think Cael will be as outstanding as a coach as he was as an athlete.''
Sanderson will turn 26 this month, so he's just getting into the prime years for a freestyle wrestler. Another Iowa State assistant coach, Chris Bono, is the reigning national champion at 145 1/2 pounds and he's 31. Heavyweight champion Tolly Thompson will be 32 on June 25. Joe Williams, the national champ at 163, is 30.
''Obviously his youth bodes well for him to continue at a very high level from a competitive standpoint if he chooses to,'' Bender said Tuesday. ''Certainly Cael, if he chose to, would be a contender on the international scene for several more Olympic quadrenniums.''
For now, though, Sanderson has another agenda.
''I still feel like I'm competing. I'm competing for recruits,'' he said. ''Maybe I can give more back to the wrestling world as a coach and help promote the sport that way.''
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