Wednesday, April 8, 2009 | 2:33 p.m.
Beyond the Sun
The entry list of the USA National Wrestling Championships won't be short on big names when it comes to the Las Vegas Convention Center Thursday.
The event will feature the likes of former World Champions, Nationals Champions and 2008 Olympians.
There will, however, be one noticeable. Just one year after winning the 121-pound freestyle division in dramatic fashion with a pin in the championship match, Matt Azevedo, a former wrestler for Eldorado High in Las Vegas, has decided not to compete.
Although it's not a definitive sign the 32-year-old has decided to retire, Azevedo admits it's a good possibility.
"It was a slow decision," said Azevedo, now an assistant coach at Cal Poly University. "I've been competing since high school, it was time for a break. I realized I needed to take a year off to gather my thoughts. Honestly, when I look ahead to competing for a spot in the Olympics in 2012, I just don't see that happening."
It's a tough decision for a wrestler who was just three wins away from representing the United States in the Olympics last summer. Following the win at Nationals — which including topping eventual Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo in the finals – Azevedo entered the Olympic Team Trials as the top seed in his weight class.
He seemed destined to reach his lifelong goal of competing in the Olympics.
Instead, Azevedo was eliminated by Stephen Abbas in the semifinals. Nearly a year later, the disappointment of that loss is still evident in Azevedo's voice.
"It was obviously a big disappointment, I kind of let myself slip into a funk after it," Azevedo said. "When I won Nationals, it was probably my most memorable wrestling moment ever. My confidence shot through the roof. I felt unbeatable going into the Olympic Trials. But it didn't work out. I fell just short. It doesn't take away from all the hard work I put in, but to be right there, it hurts."
Azevedo captured Nevada State titles as a freshman and junior at Eldorado, leading the Sun Devils to two state championships before transferring to California his senior year.
In 2002, shortly after graduating from Iowa State University, Azevedo began his coaching career at Cal Poly, where his uncle John Azevedo was an assistant. Since his arrival, Cal Poly has finished in second place in the Pac-10 Conference twice and produced seven All-Americans.
"He comes to practice and works hard, he's always set a great example," said John Azevedo, who is now the head coach. "Most of our success has come in the lighter weights and that's a direct product of him working with those guys and wrestling with those guys. He's becoming more and more involved in coaching and he's been a great asset to me and our program."
While Matt Azevedo used to split his time between coaching and his own training, he has found himself spending less time working out and more time thinking about starting a family with his wife, Brooke, of three years.
Although it's taken a lot of time and still not official, he said that if skipping this weekend is the first step towards retirement, it's a decision he's becoming comfortable with.
"I feel like it is time to move on and start a family, I don't know if I can do that and still compete," Azevedo said. "I put in a lot of great years and in the end, it's been fun and I think I can be happy just coaching now.
“But you never know what's going to happen,” he continued. “Wrestling is a sport where you give it up and then you're in the gym and you're thinking, 'I can beat that guy, I can beat that guy.' A lot of people make comebacks in this sport."
The Nationals run Thursday to Saturday with competition in all three Olympic styles, Greco-Roman, freestyle and women’s freestyle. The top seven finishers in each weight class in all three styles will earn a spot in the 2009 U.S. World Team Trials, which is the final qualifying event for the 2009 U.S. World Teams.