Published July 17, 2012
Four years ago in Beijing, Greco-Roman wrestler Spenser Mango was a wide-eyed 22-year-old, in disbelief that he had even made it to the Olympics just three years out of high school.
"I remember the first night at the village, going around and looking at everything and just being in awe," the slightly-built Mango told USA Today.
Since his solid eighth-place finish in the 55 kg (121 lb) division, Mango has come into his own over the past four years while mastering the Greco-Roman style.
"It was my first international senior-level competition, and I guess I learned a lot," the St. Louis native told the Post-Dispatch.
"I didn't know what to expect there. I hadn't been wrestling Greco-Roman very long.”
The main form of wrestling in the United States is freestyle. The major difference is that Greco-Roman rules prohibit any moves below the waist and the sport is traditionally dominated by European nations and Russia.
Now, at 26, Mango heads to London ranked as the nation's No. 1 bantamweight, the sport's lightest weight class.
He is projected as a medal contender after an impressive showing at the U.S. Olympic Trials in April, where he swept all three of his matches.
The Northern Michigan graduate competes as part of the Army's World Class Athlete Program, where he is technically on orders to make the Olympic team and bring home a medal for his country.
When his wrestling career is over, he will transition into a job in the Army.
"We are regular enlisted soldiers in the Army, and if you have a special skill like me, I wrestle, you can apply for the Army World Class Athlete Program," Mango, who is a specialist in the Army National Guard and trains in Colorado Springs, said.
"Depending on your ranking or how you do at the camps, you get put on to the team and then they switch your orders from being in the regular Army to being in the World Class Athlete Program. From there, you pretty much train full time to make an Olympic team and win Olympic gold."
Though he has been the top-ranked American at 55 kg for five years running, Mango is still looking to break through at the sport's highest levels. His best finish at the 2009 world championships was ninth, but he failed to place in 2010 and 2011.
Mango and his wife, Leann, were married last July. His younger brother, Ryan, is a two-time All-American wrestler at Stanford.