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Maggie Hendricks

Ben Askren is more than a hairdo

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Let's get it out of the way - yep, Ben Askren is the guy with the crazy hair. He wrestled his way to two national championships for the University of Missouri with his hair styled in a large afro. At the Olympic Trials in June, it was in cornrows. Though you might notice him because of the bizarre hair, you should remember him because of his wrestling.

Askren is not the strongest or the fastest guy in any wrestling room. His technique in college was known as "the funk" because no one knew how to describe it. The flexibility, the stubborn refusal to get taken down and unorthodox moves were all things that the wrestling world had not seen before. As he became a four-time national finalist, many in the wrestling community were impressed, but said that his style would never translate to freestyle wrestling, one of two styles in the Olympics. If he wanted an Olympic gold medal, he would need to wait until 2012.

Then, he won a U.S. senior national championship in April, and had no trouble at the trials. He completely changed his wrestling style, and was headed to the Olympics, four years ahead of the schedule wrestling traditionalists had set for him. Of course, he never believed in that schedule:

"If anyone would have said that (it was more realistic to prepare for 2012) I would have laughed in their face and said, `Yeah right, I'm making it in 2008.' But a lot of people thought that, and that was never on my mind. You can't plan six years ahead. That would be like giving up on these games, and I wasn't ready to give up. I'm never ready to give up."

Askren's competition is ridiculously difficult. To win the gold, he would need to get through Buvaisar Satiev, a Russian two-time gold medalist, and the tough Ukrainian, Ibragim Aldatov. There is a reason, though, why I believe in Ben, and you should too. He doesn't make promises that he can't keep. He promised to win the first wrestling national championship for Missouri, and he did it. He promised to make the Olympic team, and he did it. His latest promise is to bring home gold. I have learned not to doubt him.

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