After winning the silver, Paulson eyes national title at 118 pounds

by Allison Younge

In this new year, Gophers wrestler Brandon Paulson could sit back with his Olympic silver medal in hand, a grin of satisfaction on his face and say, “I’ve reached my goal.”
Competing in the Olympic games was an accomplishment that Paulson will never forget, but he’s not ready to dwell on the past. His focus and desire have shifted back home, back to the goal of winning a national championship with the Gophers.
“I came back to Minnesota to win an individual title and team title,” Paulson said, “and I expect to win.”
From Paulson, these words ring with the validity of a champion. He is a prime example of an athlete who has set and met plenty of goals.
A Coon Rapids native, Paulson won three consecutive state titles at 112 pounds for Anoka High School. He redshirted his first season with the Gophers and posted a 28-13 mark his freshman year.
After a solid 31-9 sophomore season, Paulson wrestled internationally in Greco-Roman (where moves below the waist are restricted) at 114.5 pounds during the summer. During that time, Paulson proved to himself that he was capable of earning a trip to Atlanta.
“I felt that I was close enough that if I took a year off I could make the Olympic Team,” Paulson said.
Paulson decided to go for it and began a year of worldwide training en route to his goal of participating in the 1996 Olympic Games.
Paulson’s one-year layoff with the Gophers resulted in a spot on the U.S Olympic team, a silver medal performance and a realization of a goal that had been set years before.
“Ever since I was 10 years old, my goal had been to make the Olympic team,” Paulson said. “During the closing ceremonies of the Olympics, it finally sunk in that I had reached my goal. It was an unbelievable feeling.”
But it was a feeling Paulson doesn’t want to pursue again.
“I can’t see myself wrestling for four more years,” he said. “The only reason I’d go back would be to have the national anthem played in my honor. If I don’t think I could train as hard as I’d have to train to hear that, it wouldn’t be worth it.”
The Olympic experience was over, a silver medal achieved, just in time for Paulson to fill the gap at 118 pounds in this year’s Gophers lineup.
Wrestling the lead-off match for Minnesota, Paulson is depended upon to rouse the crowd, create confidence for his teammates and gain an early lead. His ferocious style has been effective, producing a No. 5 ranking at his weight, and a 14-1 record so far this season.
“Brandon gets us started off with a win,” Gophers coach J Robinson said, “He creates the momentum for the rest of the match.”
Paulson enjoys his position at the 118-pound weight class. He has the ability to dominate, producing high scores that have played a major role in the fifth-ranked Gophers’ successful 7-1 season.
“I like being the first to wrestle. I try to pump up the team and crowd as much as possible by being exciting,” Paulson said.
Clarion’s Sheldon Thomas (ranked No. 1 at 118 pounds) interrupted Paulson’s spotless record on Dec. 15 with an 8-4 decision at the Clarion Duals.
“I didn’t have enough energy in the last minute and a half,” Paulson said. “He’s a tough wrestler. It’ll come down to who’s better at nationals.”
Coach Robinson is sure that Paulson knows what he needs to do to beat Thomas next time. “He has to gain the desire again and change a few technical things,” Robinson said.
One aspect of Paulson that appears to be right on track is his bold, positive, winning mentality. “When I’m on the mat, I’m the best in the world,” Paulson said. “It’s important that I have confidence in myself before and during my match”.
This remark might bring to mind a famous boxer who coined the phrase, “I am the greatest.” Muhammad Ali has been one of Paulson’s role models since he was a kid. “I loved him because he was so confident in himself,” Paulson said.
Confidence is what helped Paulson believe he was good enough to compete with the best at the Olympics. It helped him show Minnesota that he has the ability to lead the Gophers to the NCAAs. And Paulson’s confidence is the quality that Robinson finds most valuable to the team.
“Players look at him and say, ‘if Brandon can do it, I can too.'”