By Sam Louwagie
Travis Paulson’s mother cried tears of happiness when he told her the news.
He had decided to wrestle at 84 kilograms in this weekend’s Olympic trials. His twin brother, Trent Paulson, was competing at 74 kilograms.
“She was really happy,” Travis Paulson said of his mom’s reaction. “It breaks my mom’s heart watching us compete for the same goal.”
The Paulson brothers started wrestling in second grade and never faced each other in competition — until 2010. They competed at 165 and 157 pounds respectively as Iowa State Cyclones. USA Freestyle coach Zeke Jones said the twins “have done a variety of different things” in terms of mixing weight classes to avoid each other since entering senior competition.
But they couldn’t avoid it any longer in the finals of the 2010 World Team Trials. Travis Paulson won a 1-0, 2-1 decision in the twins’ hometown of Council Bluffs, Iowa. But it wasn’t a victory he savored.
“It was tough because it was in our hometown and every match one of us wrestled, it was really loud,” Travis Paulson said. “But when we wrestled [each other], you could hear a cricket. It was just dead silent. There was a lot on the line, and it’s kind of hard to put into words what it felt like.”
They won’t have to feel it again — at least not this weekend. After Travis Paulson saw his twin brother win this year’s Pan American games, he elected to move up a weight class and avoid a head-to-head meeting.
“They’re family and brothers first, and nothing will get in the way of that,” Jones said. “But they’re professionals too. They’re professional athletes, and they’ve handled this really well.”
Trent Paulson reached the finals of the 74-kilogram bracket yesterday before losing to Andrew Howe.
Travis Paulson will wrestle Jake Herbert in the finals tonight after winning a 1-0, 2-0 decision in the semifinals. He’s advanced through the bracket despite wrestling bigger, stronger opponents than he’s accustomed to. Paulson entered the tournament as a sixth seed, and upset third-seed Raymond Jordan in the second round. He dropped the first period to Jordan, but rallied to win the second, 1-0, and the third, 2-0.
Then he won two-straight periods to beat second-seeded Keith Gavin and reach the finals. Paulson said he might have a slight quickness advantage as a smaller wrestler, but that it poses challenges as well.
“These guys have heavy hips,” Paulson said. “They’re harder to move in a tie. Gavin is real tough. But it doesn’t matter what weight class you’re at. If someone weighs 10 more pounds than you, it just comes down to who has better strategy.”
Travis Paulson will face the tournament’s top seed in a best-of-three series tonight for an Olympic berth. And Trent Paulson will be in his coach’s corner cheering him on, just like he was in the semifinals.
“I feed off of him,” Travis Paulson said. “We think the same way. He has my back. He’s my best friend.”
UPDATE 6:50 p.m. Sunday: Corrected Trent Paulson’s finals opponent. The DI regrets the error.