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August 19, 2008

Henry Cejudo captures gold and a piece of the American dream

http://www.latimes.com/la-spw-olywrestling20-2008aug20,0,7484793.story

From the Los Angeles Times
OLYMPIC WRESTLING
Henry Cejudo captures gold and a piece of the American dream
The son of undocumented Mexican immigrants wins Olympic freestyle wrestling title at 121 pounds.
By Kevin Baxter

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

4:22 AM PDT, August 19, 2008

BEIJING -- Henry Cejudo called it the American dream.

The son of undocumented Mexican immigrants who had to work two jobs to keep food on the table, Cejudo gave the U.S. its first Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling in Beijing with a stunning win Tuesday over Japan's Tomohiro Matsunaga in the 55-kilogram (121 pounds) final.

"I'm living the American dream right now, man," Cejudo, wrapped in an American flag, said moments after his win. "The United States is the land of opportunity. It's the best country in the world and I'm just glad to represent it."

A joyful Cejudo, 21, broke into tears on the mat at the end of the match, then took a victory lap around the China Agricultural University Gymnasium.

"This is what I always wanted," he said. "The frustration was let out. The hard work and everything.

"I set my goal, I trained hard. I had a good staff around me. I just put the pieces together and I really believed in myself."

Cejudo, who had to come from behind simply to win the U.S. Olympic trials, also trailed in all three of his preliminary matches here but he never trailed in the final. Although he and Matsunaga were tied, 2-2, after the first period, Cejudo was declared the winner because he had the highest-scoring move, a two-point takedown. Cejudo then jumped to a 3-0 lead early in the second period to clinch the match.

"This is cool. Coming out of a Mexican American background, it feels good to represent the U.S.," said Cejudo, who was born in Los Angeles. "Not too many Mexicans get the chance to do that."

Cejudo's parents divorced when he was 4 and he saw his father, Jorge, only one more time before he died in Mexico City. But his mother, Nelly Rico, raised a family of six children on her own, bouncing from low-paying jobs in California to New Mexico and Arizona, where the family sometimes slept four to a bed.

A large group of family and friends -- including sister Gloria, brother Alonzo and brother Angel, his training partner in Beijing -- were in the stands for the match. And they made so much noise they were nearly ejected at one point.

Missing, however, was Cejudo's mother, the person he has repeatedly said is most responsible for his success.

"We always moved forward. We always moved forward. My mom always taught us to suck it up and whatever you want to do, you can do," Cejudo said. "And that's what I did."

There were conflicting stories as to why his mother remained in Colorado. According to one explanation she had passport problems while Cejudo said she stayed home to take care of her grandchildren.

But Gloria said her mother, who had a ticket, didn't come because she was too nervous to watch her son compete in the Olympic Games.

"At the Olympic trials in Las Vegas, she couldn't take it," said Gloria, who added that her mother, despite being half a world away, spent much of the last day vomiting because of nerves.

But she was there in spirit, with her son putting her life's lessons to good use.

"He has done an unbelievable job coming from the environment that he came from," his coach, Terry Brands, said. "Could be in prison. Could be a drug runner. Could be this, could be that. He's done an unbelievable job of not being a victim.

"He is the American dream. Gold medals are the American dream."

And Cejudo had one around his neck Tuesday. But he was also wearing an American flag. And he wouldn't let on which he liked better.

"I don't want to let it go," he finally said, tugging on the flag. "I might sleep with this."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Posted by VisaLawyer at August 19, 2008 03:05 PM

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