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Former American Gold Medalist Wrestler Henry Cejudo Loses at Olympic Trials, Retires

Former gold medalist retires after failing to qualify for team

Sunday, Apr 22, 2012  |  Updated 1:51 PM PDT
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Henry Cejudo won the gold medal at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, but was unable to qualify for a spot on the team this year.

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Olympic champion Henry Cejudo returned to wrestling to inspire people and try to win a gold medal with his mother in the stands in London.

It didn't work out as the 2008 gold medalist hoped, so Cejudo quickly called it a career.

Cejudo's comeback bid ended with a loss in the semifinals of the U.S. Olympic trials Sunday. Cejudo, the freestyle champion in Beijing four years ago at 55 kilograms, fell to top-seeded Nick Simmons 3-0, 5-9, 5-2.

The 25-year-old Cejudo removed his shoes after the loss — symbolic of a wrestler retiring — and flung them into the crowd in Iowa City.

"I can honestly say I'm sad. But at the same time, I gave it my all," Cejudo said. "I wasn't meant to be an Olympic champion. ... For me, it was to use that platform to share my story and to give back. And ultimately, I'm full of peace. I'm full of joy."

Cejudo, a native of Phoenix, grew up in poverty as one of six children. His mother, Nelly Rico, is an immigrant from Mexico. Cejudo shot to fame by becoming the only American wrestler to win gold in the Beijing Games, though his mother couldn't go to China because of her citizenship status.

Cejudo stepped away from the sport for three years to write a book, fulfill speaking engagements and speak out on immigration issues. Though Cejudo eventually returned to the mat, he competed in only a few tournaments before entering the trials.

Cejudo survived a tough first-round match Sunday against up-and-comer Earl Hall. Cejudo then dispatched fifth-seeded Obe Blanc in two periods to set up a matchup with Simmons, who finished fifth at last year's world championships.

Cejudo rallied from losing the first period with a rousing attack in the second, but the seasoned Simmons put him away in the final two minutes.

Cejudo received a standing ovation from the close to 14,000 in attendance in Iowa City, and he thanked them by tossing his shoes their way.

"I'm not going to say goodbye to the sport of wrestling. Now, I'm done competing, but if anything I'm going to say hello. I'm going to help these guys. I'm going to help this team," Cejudo said.

Cejudo essentially ruled out a coaching career in either high school or college, adding that he's invested in real estate and other businesses and should be set financially.

Cejudo won't get to retire by flinging his shoes into a crowd that included his mother at the ExCel Centre in London this summer. But he joked that Nelly likely won't be too broken up about that.

"I think she wanted me to retire anyway. She doesn't like me wrestling," Cejudo said. "She's a sweet lady. To be honest with you, she'd rather have us preaching."

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