U wrestler brings home silver medal

Matthew Cross

Gophers wrestler Brandon Paulson is little, confident and bald — a weird combination for a Minnesotan. But the 114.5-pound Anoka native proved Tuesday that it’s a perfect one for a 1996 Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling silver medalist.
Paulson tore through his opponents Monday in the first two rounds of competition. He pinned Peru’s Joel Basaldua in one minute, 36 seconds and beat Ibad Akhmedov of Belarus to advance to the semifinals.
Paulson won an easy 6-2 decision Tuesday morning against Yorden Anev of Bulgaria and consequently guaranteed himself a medal. At that point, Paulson had already accomplished what he dreamed of throughout two years of training. For him, losing 5-1 in the finals to Armen Nazaryan of Armenia wasn’t a big deal.
“I’m the second best in the world,” Paulson shouted. “This is the ultimate. I still have to pinch myself every time I think about it. I keep wondering, ‘Is this going to end? Did I really do it?'”
He did, but it wasn’t without controversy — from his mom, that is.
In order to psyche himself up for the Olympics, Paulson shaved his head at the urging of his Olympic teammate Dennis Hall. Hall also won a silver medal this week at 125 pounds.
When Paulson’s mother found out, she paged him three times but received no response. Paulson knew his mom would be upset because his sister is getting married next week. And without hair, his cauliflower ears stick straight out.
But Paulson said the new ‘do did wonders for his confidence.
“I didn’t have to do it,” he said. “But it made me a tougher wrestler. I’ve never wrestled better than now.”
Indeed, Paulson achieved the thrill of any athlete’s life with an Olympic medal. But he’s no stranger to success in wrestling.
Paulson holds a U.S. amateur record with 11 age-group national championships. As a freshman for the Gophers, he qualified for the NCAA Championships; in his two years with Minnesota, he has a 59-22 record.
Fortunately for the Gophers, Paulson plans to return to the University in the fall. He has two years of eligibility remaining.
“I told the team when I left that I’d come back if I won a medal or not,” Paulson said. “I’m going back and we’re going to have a great team next year.”
Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson said Paulson’s silver medal demonstrates the success of Minnesota wrestlers.
“I think it speaks a lot for the state of Minnesota and the youth programs,” Robinson said. “Brandon started as a 6-year-old kid with a dream of going to the Olympics and now look at him. He’s just 22 years old and an Olympic silver medalist. That’s just great.”
And chances are good that Robinson will invite Paulson back with open arms — regardless of whether he’s bald or his ears stick out. To Robinson, Paulson is worth his weight in silver.