July 28, 2021

'Incredibly dedicated': Olympic wrestler Erica Wiebe has her eye on another gold medal

She won gold at the 2016 Olympics and still took advantage of every extra minute to improve for Tokyo
Erica Wiebe
Former UCalgary Dinos star and Olympic gold medallist goes for gold in 76-kg freestyle wrestling at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. David Jackson

Update: Erica Wiebe was eliminated in the first round to Epp Mae of Estonia at Tokyo Olympics.

She's prevailed at the World University Games. At the Commonwealth Games, too. One season she rattled off 36 consecutive victories. 

In her first-ever appearance at the Olympics — 2016 in Rio de Janeiro — she claimed gold in freestyle wrestling's 75-kilogram class. 

But the idea of taking it easy, resting on her portfolio of accomplishments, with an unprecedented gap between editions of the Summer Games? 

Not Erica Wiebe. 

Relentless drive to improve

Ever motivated, the former star of the UCalgary Dinos varsity team never wavered in her push for excellence heading into the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. 

"What Erica's continued to do all the way along is be better than she was just the day before," said Mitch Ostberg, coach of the Dinos and on-site tutor at the Olympics. "She has continued to train and compete over the course of the five years and is incredibly dedicated to the cause ... even during the delay. 

"She's paying attention to the details and trying to make improvements till the very last minute. That's her nature. That's very reassuring from a coaching perspective." 

New tools in her arsenal

Wiebe agrees, even if her labour — by pandemic-protocol necessity — included an emphasis on solo work. 

"Having so much time at home focusing on technical and tactical adjustments has allowed me to add some new tools to my arsenal," Wiebe noted in a recent email exchange. "It's given me a fresh perspective that I may not have had otherwise." 

It shows. Five months ago, she topped the field at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series in Rome — an indication of her readiness. "Prior [to the Olympics] to win a competition again — to dominate a competition — is a good reminder of what it feels like to be successful," said Ostberg. 

Erica Wiebe

Erica Wiebe's streak of winning included defeating world champion Yasemin Adar at the 2019 Yasar Dogu in Turkey.

Gabor Martin

Wiebe, whom Ostberg describes as a "physical specimen," can be a handful for any wrestler in the world. Ask the competitors in Rio about the Stittsville, Ont., native's power. 

To reach the gold-medal match, she overwhelmed the opposition, collecting three wins by a combined score of 13-2. Then, with the top step of the podium on the line, Wiebe conquered Kazakhstan's Guzel Manyurova, earning a 6-0 triumph. 

The dazzling display resulted in Canada's third-ever gold medal in Olympic wrestling. 

"She had a peak performance, she truly did," Ostberg said. "What we saw in Rio was her very, very best." 

Of course, that was five years ago. 

An extra year of prep

In March 2020 came the pandemic's disruption, which pushed the Summer Games into the next calendar and subsequently kinked the long-term schedules of elite athletes everywhere. 

"It was challenging to have to sit down and prepare mentally, physically, financially for an additional year," wrote Wiebe. "The final year of Olympic prep is truly a pressure-cooker and to have all that extended by a full 12 months was a lot to handle." 

But hardly wasted. Wiebe, who earned a Bachelor of Kinesiology and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology while at UCalgary, had plans to start an MBA program in 2021 — after the Olympics. But, suddenly with an extra year before the Tokyo trip, she threw herself into her studies, enrolling in the Smith School of Business at Queen's University. 

Erica Wiebe

Mitch Ostberg is coach of the Dinos and on-site tutor at the Olympics.

Dinos Athletics files

"It was a gift to be able to stay focused on a tangible task beyond sport," Wiebe wrote. "The program was challenging but also so refreshing to have something completely different to channel my energy and focus on when competitions, travel, and really training as I know it was extremely limited for the last 18 months." 

Handle the pressure

Now, her attention is locked on the Olympics. The wrestling bracket opens Sunday at the Makuhari Messe Event Hall where Wiebe begins defence of her title. 

"Erica has managed the pressure of these past five years and managed it in Rio," said Ostberg. "For some people, it overwhelms them, but Erica's managed to deal with it all the way along. 

"To use the phrase that everybody's using, the resilience of Erica Wiebe is amazing — she has managed to maintain her focus, stay on task, and continue to work towards that goal, regardless of its timing."