FORMER PENN wrestler Matt Valenti has been a champion at every level of competition. He was a two-time New Jersey state champion at Kittatinny High School. At Penn, he was the NCAA champion in the 133-pound category in back-to-back years, 2006 and '07. He also is Penn's all-time winningest wrestler, with 137 victories.
With all those victories, Valenti has set his sights on his next prize: an Olympic gold medal.
"Winning an NCAA title is a great experience and it's really an awesome thing and it's the most you can do in folkstyle wrestling, but winning an Olympic gold medal is far and above an NCAA title," Valenti said. "To be the best in the world, I can't even wrap my head about it."
Valenti is one of 10 132-pound wrestlers to qualify for the Olympic Trials. He hopes to be one of seven wrestlers who will compete in the London Games.
"I'm very confident in my chances right now,'' he said. "I've beat the top guys and they've beat me, but right now I feel like I'm really peaking and wrestling at my best. It's something that I have a history of doing in my wrestling career, performing at the highest level in important times."
Valenti will encounter some familiar faces at the Trials in Iowa City, Iowa, beginning on Saturday. Among them are former Oklahoma State star Coleman Scott, who Valenti defeated, 4-2, to win an NCAA title in his senior season. Former Iowa All-America Mike Zadick, who was on the 2008 Olympic team in Valenti's category, also will pose a challenge.
What will be different about wrestling these opponents from his days as a Quaker will be the style. Valenti has spent the past 3 years training in freestyle as opposed to the folkstyle of his high school and college career.
"It's been an adjustment to wrestling freestyle,'' he said. "I wrestled a lot of the top guys in the U.S. in the past few years and in college as well, so we're all pretty familiar with each other. At the end of the day, it's going to come down to who has the best turn at the Olympic Trials, who is the healthiest, who feels the best and who is the most confident going in."
Valenti is looking forward to competing for an a spot on the U.S. roster.
"It's been a very long, tough process,'' he said "Obviously we have world team trials and world championships every year, but it all is just a 3-year training plan for the Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games. It's been a great experience so far and the excitement is already building up.
"I just can't wait to walk out for the Opening Ceremonies with the U.S. athletes," Valenti said.