Wrestling: Herbert one step closer to Beijing

Wade Askew

Northwestern’s Jake Herbert inched one step closer to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in June, last weekend.

Herbert did so by winning the 185-pound division at the University National Freestyle Championships in Akron, Ohio.

The NCAA champion defeated Iowa State’s David Bertolino 2-0, 1-0 in the finals. The win granted Herbert a spot in the Olympic Trials, lifting a huge weight off his shoulders.

“It absolutely does (take pressure off),” he said. “It’s really nice, because you never know what can happen during these tournaments.”

A year ago, Herbert tore his meniscus at the U.S. Nationals, which will be held this year in Las Vegas April 23-26. Now, his main focus at the tournament will be a victory to attain the No. 1 overall seed for the Olympic Trials.

After an undefeated 2007 campaign that culminated in an NCAA Championship in the 184-pound division, Herbert decided to take 2008 off from collegiate competition. With an Olympic redshirt, Herbert has been training with the New York Athletic Club for the past year, devoted entirely to competing in Beijing this summer.

“It’s been awesome,” Herbert said of his decision to train away from school this year. “It’s been like I’m actually a professional athlete. It’s just (that) I don’t make any money.”

NU senior Mike Tamillow, who finished second at the Freestyle Championships at 211.5 pounds, is accompanying Herbert in his training. Other Cats participants included senior Ryan Lang, a second-place finisher at 145.5 pounds, and redshirt freshman Mike Benefiel, a fifth-place finisher at 174 pounds.

Tamillow is also not enrolled in classes this quarter and hopes to earn a spot on the Olympic team. But even though Tamillow no longer has to juggle classes with his training, his constant workouts and hectic travel schedules have him hard at work. This week, he and Herbert are training in nearby Naperville at New York A.C.’s Overtime Camp.

“I’m busy,” Tamillow said. “I’m wrestling everyday. It’s not like I’m done with classes and I’m just being a rub. I’ve only been done with classes for less than a month now, and everyday I’ve been working.”

With the Olympic Trials just two months away, both are getting in as much work as they can with the nation’s best. To Herbert, the quality of competition in both practice and matches has been the biggest difference from competing at NU.

“Everybody we have here (in Naperville) is ranked top-10 on the ladder,” Herbert said. “There are guys here who have medaled in the world, have been on world teams, and won national titles. It’s the same workouts, but with better caliber people.”

While happy with the win, the wrestler renowned for his focus and intensity is looking forward, aiming to take the next step to Beijing.

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