Nearly 30 years after the University of Kentucky dropped wrestling as a varsity sport, a Wildcat is headed for the Olympics.
USA Wrestling is expected to announce any day that James Johnson will be on the Team USA Greco-Roman wrestling coaching staff for the London Olympic Games.
"It's a great honor that you're being selected by your peers to coach in one of the biggest arenas in the world," Johnson said during a phone interview. "I look forward to the opportunity to help coach the United States and have a chance to win medals at the Olympics. And making history — I think we have that chance to do that with the guys we have on the team."
Johnson is expected to share Olympic coaching duties with Shon Lewis.
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The Olympic coaches will be joined by Greco-Roman national coach Steve Fraser and his staff. Each wrestler will have an Olympic coach and a National coach in his corner.
Johnson was practically gleeful for his 6-year-old daughter, Isabella, and 4-year-old son, Fabian, that his Olympic appointment is about to become official.
"They're funny together because they always call me 'the coach' and they had been telling their friends that I was going to be the Olympic coach," Johnson said. "So they needed that solidification so that they could go back to school and tell their friends."
Johnson won't know for a few weeks which wrestlers he'll be working with. One that he'll almost certainly have, though, is 74-kilogram (163-pound) competitor Ben Provisor of the Sunkist Kids.
As a collegiate wrestler, Johnson started every season as a 190-pounder at UK, finishing in 1981. He went 65-21, twice won the Southern Open and was a three-time Southeastern Conference medalist.
UK dropped wrestling after the 1983 season, but Johnson excelled well beyond. His greatest success came as a post-collegiate competitor in Greco-Roman. In the discipline that bars holds below the waist, he became a three-time national champion and four-time World Cup medalist, wrestling at 100 kilograms (220 pounds).
He just missed making the Olympic team as a competitor, a runner-up in the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials.
He wrestled on the National Team for 12 years, winning two Pan American Championships and twice in the famed Andre Guerin meet.
He now lives in Phoenix, where he has been coach of the Sunkist Kids for the last nine years.
He served as a World Team coach last year at Istanbul, Turkey. He was also on the 2009 World Team staff and about a dozen international tours in the last seven years.
Johnson was at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in an unofficial capacity.
"I got to watch everybody coach and I got to help when there was ... training camp," he said. "Now it's like you'll be 'up close and personal' even more. So I'm just praying and hoping that we'll have even greater success than we had in Beijing with this team.
"We've got some guys that are going back — Spenser Mango (55k, 121 pounds) was on that team at Beijing, and Dremiel Byers (120k, 264). We've also got a team that, over the last four years, has been Olympic quality and had a lot of great successes around the world. ... So I think that mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually that we're a long way from where we were four years ago."
The United States earned just one bronze medal in Greco-Roman in 2008 at Beijing.