It’s not often that an Olympic-caliber athlete returns to his alma mater to coach in the prime of his career; yet that is exactly what Clint Wattenberg ’03 has done, returning to Cornell to be an assistant coach on the wrestling squad as he gears up for another shot at making the U.S. men’s Olympic wrestling team.
Wattenberg, who lost to Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson of Iowa State in the semifinals of the Olympic trials this year, finished fourth overall, just one spot away from being on the U.S. national team, and three away from going to the Olympics. Being a member of the national team would have earned him both money and the opportunity to wrestle all across the country.
Since his graduation from Cornell in 2003 with a degree in nutritional sciences, Wattenberg has been a regular presence on campus. He trained for the Olympic trials in Cornell’s Friedman Wrestling Center, and took a role as an advisor to the wrestling team during the 2003-04 campaign, when the Red won its second consecutive Ivy League title and finished 11th at the NCAA championships. Wattenberg continued to stay involved with the Cornell wrestling program over the summer, working out with the team. At the end of the summer, head coach Rob Koll approached Wattenberg about applying for the assistant coaching position left vacant by the departure of Derek DelPorto, who is now the head wrestling coach at Slippery Rock University. After a tough application process, Wattenberg beat out four other candidates to earn the job. He officially started coaching in September.
“The wrestling community [at Cornell] is the best in the country, and the community as a whole is also amazing,” Wattenberg said. “I wouldn’t want to coach anywhere else right now.” Wattenberg’s role with the team during practice is to wrestle with team members from all weight classes, and to offer advice when he can. By becoming an assistant coach, he has also taken on more official duties, such as organizing practices and making the schedule, but that hasn’t stopped him from spending time working with the wrestlers on the team.
“He helps anyone who needs help, and he’ll work with anyone who wants to work,” sophomore Jerry Rinaldi said. “I myself work out with him at least once a week.” Although he comes in at a muscular 205 pounds, Wattenberg works with wrestlers as light as 157 pounds and as heavy as himself.
“Just the fact that I weigh a lot doesn’t necessitate that I can’t work with everyone,” he said. “I even work with the 125-pounders sometimes. I just work with them in a different way.” Although this is his first coaching job, Wattenberg already feels that it is something that he can be good at, as his years of experience in wrestling make him uniquely qualified to help younger athletes.
“Being skilled enough to compete at the Olympic level qualifies you to be a good coach, because you have to really know the techniques,” Wattenberg said. “Also, at that level it’s about individual goals, and it’s much more of an individual sport. Because of that, I learned a lot of things about training and about getting myself ready for competition, which I can now pass on to the wrestlers that I’m coaching.”
Since Wattenberg graduated a mere two years ago, nearly half of this year’s wrestlers were on the team during some of the same years as him. This has made the job all the more special for Wattenberg, who takes pride in being able to help his former teammates wrestle at a higher level.
“I want to help these guys reach their goals and improve,” he said. “That’s something really fulfilling for me, especially since I’ve wrestled with some of these guys.”
During his time at Cornell, Wattenberg became one of the University’s all-time great wrestlers. During his senior year, he compiled a record of 39-5, and was good enough to be ranked the top wrestler in the 184-pound weight class for part of the 2002-03 season. At the 2003 NCAA championships, Wattenberg came in fifth place, besting his junior-year finish of sixth. In 2002 he won the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association title and was named the New York State Wrestler of the Year. In that same year, Wattenberg received the Peter J. Floros Memorial Award, given annually to Cornell’s most valuable wrestler. After a highly successful 2000-01 season as a sophomore, he received the James Meldrim ’63 Memorial Award, signifying outstanding character, sportsmanship, scholarship, and contribution to the Cornell wrestling program. He recorded a total of 23 falls during his career with the Red, and he won the Andy Noel Award for most falls in 2002 and 2003. Wattenberg’s return to Cornell wrestling in an official capacity is welcomed throughout the program, and wrestlers are excited about the prospect of having him coach the entire season.
“Anything I’ve done good on the team is because of him,” Rinaldi said. “Since I started working with him I improved a whole lot, and I’m sure it’s because of him.”
Archived article by Jacob Lieberman
Sun Staff Writer