Meet Carol Huynh, Canada’s first Olympic women’s wrestling champion
Canada’s Carol Huynh explains why she first took up wrestling as a teenager and looks back on her career high at Beijing 2008, when she won freestyle 48kg gold to become her country’s first ever women’s Olympic champion in the sport.
Born in the village of Hazelton, British Columbia, and one of five siblings in a family of Chinese and Vietnamese extraction, Carol Huynh took up wrestling at the age of 15.
“I chose wrestling because it was a sport in the area where I grew up,” she explains. “At the time women’s wrestling wasn’t that popular. Not many people did it or even knew about it, but I happened to have a coach who was a real advocate for women’s wrestling, and my older sister was one of the first females on our high school wrestling team. She kind of paved the way for me.”
She adds: “I saw how she enjoyed it. She was fit and she was really confident in herself. I saw those really positive effects on her, so it was natural for me to try out wrestling. I was kind of athletic already so I think it translated into wrestling and eventually I got better and better at wrestling and got recruited to go to university for wrestling, so I got better and better and made the national teams and had all these great opportunities to travel abroad. I was so passionate about my sport and wanting to do the best that I could, I just kept going and going.”
©IOC / John Huet
A psychology graduate from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Huynh won a bronze in the freestyle 46kg category at the 2000 FILA Wrestling World Championships and then took silver in the same class the following year. Her dream of competing in the first women’s Olympic wrestling tournament at Athens 2004 ended when she was beaten by her friend and training partner Lyndsay Belisle in the Canadian trials. After helping Belisle prepare for Athens, and in her determination to tread the big stage herself one day, Huynh put her studies to one side and decamped to Calgary to concentrate on wrestling full-time.
A Pan American champion in 2007, Huynh then achieved her aim of making the Canada team for Beijing 2008, where she turned in a performance full of energy, skill and determination to beat Japan’s Chiharu Icho by a score of 4-0 and 2-1 in the 48kg final. In the process she became her country’s first gold medallist of the Beijing Games and the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic wrestling title.
Further golds came Huynh’s way at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi (IND) and the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara (MEX), with the Canadian then adding to her Olympic medal collection by winning bronze in the 48kg category at London 2012.
She then became president of the Athletes Commission of United World Wrestling, the sport’s governing body.
Explaining the challenges she has faced away from the mat, Huynh says: “Throughout my career I have experienced some people who make comments about how women shouldn’t wrestle. Those comments were more like fuel. When I heard those kinds of doubts or those kinds of negative comments, it made me want to do better, to train harder, to show people that women belong in this sport and that we can be really great at it. So it kind of helped me.”