Wrestling: Zillmer still has eyes on Olympics

Hayden Zillmer

Chances are loud music and crashes can be heard coming out of Hayden Zillmer’s garage.

The former Crosby-Ironton High School and North Dakota State University wrestler was primed to grab a spot on the United States Olympic wrestling team before COVID-19 postponed the 2020 Olympics to 2021.

Zillmer said he was confident and his body felt great heading into the April 4-5 U.S. Olympic trials at the Bryce Jordan Center on the campus of Penn State University in Pennsylvania. Zillmer qualified in the 97-kilogram division in the freestyle bracket by winning the Senior Nationals in December in Fort Worth, Texas.

Along with the Olympics, the trails were canceled because of the virus.

“My confidence was good,” Zillmer said. “I was sitting good. I was peaking well. We weren’t quite at the peaking process. My training was going really well. My weight was good. I moved up a weight class from last year. My weight class last year was 202 pounds and that’s a non-Olympic weight class. So what happens is during a World (Championship) year there are 10 weight classes. During an Olympic year, there are only six weight classes so a few of those weight classes get cut out of there. You either have to go up or down and so I went up to 213 pounds, which is 97 kilograms.”


Zillmer said because of his win at the Senior Nationals, he would have gotten a high seed for the qualifier.

He said his training was on pace and his team, Gopher WC RTC, was able to adapt with a training site in southern Minnesota before the stay-home order was announced. Luckily for the former three-time Class 1A state high school champion and former All-American he was able to transform his garage into a home gym.

“I decked out my garage so it’s all weights and stuff,” Zillmer said. “You can’t park a car in there anymore because it’s a homemade gym. I’m just getting in what I can get in.”

Zillmer said there are many questions as to who is qualified for the U.S. Qualifier now and whether there will be a Worlds competition or just Olympics. He’s not even sure when he’ll be able to get on a mat again. But that hasn’t stopped him from training.

“We’re just waiting to get back on the mat,” he said. “I don’t know when that will be when the University of Minnesota will allow us back in. I do know until May 31 we are definitely out, but I’ve heard we could be pushed into July or late summer.

“I haven’t been on the mat that much, but at the end of the day, maybe that’s a good thing. It gets to be a grind. I haven’t really had too much rest time over the past four years. We’ve been competing and grinding out through practices because you never know when you’ll be competing. Training never stops because you never know when you might get a call about competing in a tournament overseas.”

Zillmer said he’s using the downtime to get stronger in other areas, too. He’s watching more film than he normally does and working on mental preparation.

“Everybody always talks about how athletics is 90% mental, but nobody every really trains it,” Zillmer said. “I think this is a good time to start thinking about those things. Now is a good time to visualize your technique as opposed to doing it. You can work on your footwork without a partner and just get your mind some reps. I’m just building in different areas.”


Zillmer said he feels for the college athletes who didn’t get to compete at the NCAA Nationals as those tournaments were canceled right before the tournaments were to take place. He also mentioned those athletes who may have been looking at the Olympic qualifier as their last tournament.

“I know I have another shot at this, but these seniors, I’ve never been in that spot where I got cut short because of something that I couldn’t control,” Zillmer said. “It’s just a bad situation all the way around. It’s such a tragedy. The thing with wrestling, and I know every sport is a lot of work, but with wrestlers, they’re watching their weight. They’re dieting. It’s a lifestyle. They’re putting more than just the time in practice. It’s the way they eat, sleep and everything has to be right.”

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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