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Grappling in Athens

Last summer Nate Ackerman, a doctoral candidate in mathematics, fulfilled the dream of every topflight athlete: he participated in the Olympic Games. He didn’t finish in the top 10, as he had hoped, but he says the experience was definitely worth the years of rigorous training that got him there.

Ackerman’s road to Athens began in a high school in England where he competed as a freestyle wrestler. It kicked into high gear in 1998 while he was wrestling as an undergraduate at Harvard. His coach there, Granit Taropin, was a former Soviet national coach known for mentoring Olympic gold medalists and world champions. Ackerman started competing on the international circuit and worked out regularly in Cambridge. He also wrestled in Great Britain, where he holds dual citizenship, becoming national champion in 2002 and again in 2004.

To reach the games, Ackerman, who wrestled for Great Britain, earned one of six wild-card berths available to wrestlers who did not qualify through international meets. Once in Athens, Ackerman landed in an elimination pool with two other wrestlers—a three-time world champion and the eventual silver medalist. He had lost to both men before in international tournaments, so he knew his chances of advancing were slim. He lost both matches at the Olympics but remains philosophical. “That’s why I got to the Olympics,” he says. “I had such tough draws and went up against the best. I didn’t win, but I showed I could compete and score points on them.”

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