Olympic Medalist Formerly Trained In Payson

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Henry Cejudo, the former Maryvale High School wrestling champion who won the freestyle gold medal in the Beijing Olympics once trained in Payson.

Former Longhorn wrestling coach Dennis Pirch fondly recalls Cejudo participating in summer training camps, held in Wilson Dome, for grapplers who had qualified for the Wrestling USA Western Regional championships in freestyle and Greco-Roman.

Those camps usually drew some of the finest wrestlers in the state, mostly due to the presence of the excellent staff, which included then-Iowa State coach Bobby Douglas, ASU All-American Joe Romero and Pirch, once the national high school coach of the year.

Pirch remembers Cejudo as, "extremely skilled even as a pre-adolescent and a tough competitor."

The former coach also recalls Romero spending a good deal of time with Cejudo both encouraging and teaching him.

As young as Cejudo was at the Payson camps, the coaches could tell he was a special wrestler, Pirch said.

Cejudo, now 21, thumped Japan's Tomohiro Matsunaga in the final match of the 121-pound division to win the gold medal. He was the youngest U.S. wrestler to win an Olympic freestyle gold medal and is the son of an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.

Pirch recalls the Payson camps attracting many of the Valley's rugged Mexican-American kids, like Cejudo, who were coachable and eager to succeed in the sport.

Cejudo first made his mark on the international scene in 2005 while he was still a senior in high school by beating NCAA champion Jason Powell of Nebraska in the New York Athletic Club Holiday International.

Just months later, he became the first prep wrestler to win a senior national championship since USA Wrestling became the sport's governing body in 1983.

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