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2008 Olympic Champion Henry Cejudo Retires After Loss: Fan Reaction

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2008 Olympic Champion Henry Cejudo Retires After Loss: Fan Reaction

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Henry Cejudo (in blue) wrestles in a 2005 exhibition match.

As the final seconds ticked down on the clock, the noise level in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa, rose to a roar.

The crowd was cheering for the most exciting match of the weekend. They were cheering out of respect for 2008 Olympic champion Henry Cejudo, and they were cheering because they love to watch the 55-kilogram freestyle wrestler compete.

On that day, the crowd also was cheering for his career. After losing to Nick Simmons in three periods of freestyle wrestling, Cejudo sat down on the mat, and in front of more than 13,000 fans who'd crowded into Carver-Hawkeye Arena, he unlaced his shoes, signaling his retirement.

Then, in the cheesy fashion that works so perfectly for Cejudo, he launched one shoe into each side of the stands.

While many of the fans cheered, there was at least one man standing next to me who was upset with Cejudo's decision. As Cejudo sat down and reached for his laces, the man groaned.

"No, Henry. Don't do it. C'mon," the man said, as he turned away from the scene.

While I don't know for sure, I have to believe that at least some of the other fans in the arena felt the same was as the stranger standing next to me -- mostly because the man had found a way to express some of the feelings that had emerged in myself. Standing in the arena, I knew I was witnessing something emotional and spectacular. It's not every day that you have the opportunity to watch an Olympian pour himself into a match and be so exciting, even in defeat.

But at the same time, I felt as if Cejudo wasn't done wrestling. At 25 years old, he could easily have some of his best years ahead of him -- especially if you consider the fact that Cejudo didn't compete for nearly three of the four years since the 2008 Olympic Games.

Yet despite what some would call a lack of commitment on Cejudo's part, his talent shone through on the mat at the Wrestling Team Trials. He was just one match from qualifying for the finals of the tournament, and finished just two wins from the Olympic team. Cejudo has an immeasurable amount of talent, and with a strong commitment, it seems that he could be able to accomplish his Olympic goals once again.

So when the man standing next to me expressed his disappointment, even in the middle of that emotional and symbolic moment, I knew exactly what he meant. But in the end, Cejudo's decision wasn't up to me or the man standing next to me, nor should it have been. Like all other athletes, Cejudo has the right to make his own decisions and compete for himself and himself alone.

As Cejudo ran from the arena, he received a roaring standing ovation. He'd accomplished quite a feat: He'd put on the show of the weekend, and he retired as the defending Olympic champion.

Sandra Johnson is a longtime wrestling fan. While working for the United States Olympic Committee, Johnson had the opportunity to live alongside the freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestlers at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Follow her on Twitter: @SandraJohnson46

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