WRESTLING: Former Den­ver East ath­lete Maya Nel­son in­tent on win­ning Olympic ti­tle.

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Kyle New­man Kyle New­man: 303-954-1773 knew­man@den­ver­post.com or @KyleNew­manDP

The Den­ver Post

To re­al­ize her po­ten­tial as a wrestler, Maya Nel­son knew she needed to im­merse her­self in the sport.

So in Jan­uary, the 2015 Den­ver East High School grad­u­ate who be­came the first girl to ad­vance to the quar­ter­fi­nals of Colorado’s state wrestling tour­na­ment, moved from Mont­bello to Colorado Springs in order to wres­tle full-time at the U.S. Olympic Train­ing Cen­ter.

The mi­gra­tion south­ward paid off in a big way last week when, on Fri­day, Nel­son won freestyle gold at the Ju­nior World Cham­pi­onships in Tam­pere, Fin­land, in the 139-pound weight class to be­come the coun­try’s first Ju­nior World win­ner since 2010.

“Mov­ing has been the best thing I’ve done for my ca­reer,” Nel­son said in a phone in­ter­view. “I’ve been wrestling peo­ple like Becka Leathers, who’s on the Se­nior World Team, and peo­ple like Amanda Hendey, who’s been on sev­eral na- tional teams. I’ve been in a room with heavy hit­ters who are still train­ing for se­nior world ti­tles. It’s a great en­vi­ron­ment to be around.”

In a U.S. wrestling sys­tem where the Cadet and Ju­nior teams are of­ten seen as the stock­pile for fu­ture na­tional team stars, Nel­son’s lat­est achieve­ment puts her goal of mak­ing the 2020 Olympic team within reach.

“A Ju­nior World Cham­pi­onship is a great step­ping­stone to be­com­ing an Olympic cham­pion,” Nel­son said. “Now, it’s about con­tin­u­ing to work hard in prac­tice — even if I’m get­ting one per­cent bet­ter every day, that is go­ing to add up to a spot on the team and, hope­fully, that Olympic ti­tle.”

And in the bruis­ing, oxy­gen-de­prived mo­ments against her Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts at the train­ing cen­ter, Nel­son said she con­stantly harkens back to her days at Den­ver East, a time in which she noted a main mo­ti­va­tion was to “prove that she could com­pete against boys turn­ing into men” en route to be­com­ing a two-time state qual­i­fier.

“Wrestling boys made me face a lot of ad­ver­sity, which helped my wrestling tremen­dously,” she said. “I knew I couldn’t out­mus­cle these guys and that I had to use my tech­nique and speed. All of that goes into the way I wres­tle now.”

Photo Cour­tesy of USA Wrestling

Maya Nel­son, a 2015 Den­ver East High School grad­u­ate, cel­e­brates her Ju­nior World Cham­pi­onship vic­tory over Bul­garia’s Yu­liana Yaneva on Fri­day in Fin­land.

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