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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Two Hawai'i women invited to live at Olympic Center

By Dennis Anderson
Advertiser Staff Writer

Two pioneers of girls wrestling in Hawai'i are being invited to be pioneers of the USA Olympic program.

Katie Kunimoto, left, and Clarissa Chun will report to the Olympic Training Center between Aug. 15 and Sept. 1, and remain residents as long as they are considered Olympic Games prospects.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

They are among 20 athletes who will be the first full-time women's wrestling residents at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The resident program is being initiated by USA Wrestling because women's wrestling will make its debut as an Olympic sport at Athens, Greece, in 2004.

Invitations were mailed yesterday by USA Wrestling to Clarissa Chun, a 1999 Roosevelt High graduate from Kapolei, and Katie Kunimoto, a 1999 Castle High graduate from 'Ahuimanu.

"Wow!" Kunimoto squealed when The Advertiser informed her Monday of her invitation.

Dave Bennett, the national developmental coach who helped select the residents, said: "I've been around this sport a long time, and I can't honestly say I ever thought of Hawai'i as being a state that produced a lot of elite wrestlers. All of the sudden they are coming on the scene."

(2001 St. Louis graduate Travis Lee, an All-American at Cornell this year, will train with the USA men's World Team in Colorado Springs next week.)

Chun and Kunimoto were runners-up in their weight classes last month in the USA World Team Trials in St. Paul, Minn. Chun was a member of the USA World Team last year.

Chun was invited to join the resident program even though she underwent surgery June 26 to repair a left anterior cruciate ligament that was torn in January and aggravated at the World Team Trials. She may not be cleared to wrestle until November, but she can continue her rehabilitation and do other conditioning. "We want her here to take advantage of the Olympic Center's resources," for rehabilitation, Bennett said.

The athletes will report to the Olympic Training Center between Aug. 15 and Sept. 1 and remain residents as long as they are considered Olympic Games prospects.

"Clarissa has been performing very well all along," Bennett said. "She had a real good camp (prior to the World Team Trials) and it wasn't easy, with her knee. She had to prove she could put things like (the injury) behind her. She has a good future."

Katie Kunimoto, in action at a dual meet between Pacific and Simon Fraser.

Photo courtesy Katie Kunimoto

Chun's biggest obstacle, Bennett said, is that "she is not very big. Most girls cut weight to make 105.5 pounds, but Clarissa doesn't weigh 103 most days."

Of Kunimoto, Bennett said, "Katie came out of nowhere last year; she wasn't ranked. ...

"She came to our first women's camp for five weeks (in May and June) and showed us that she's a rapid learner, has good athletic ability, a good work ethic and she's mentally tough. ... She wants it.

"Before practice and long after practice, you will see her on the mat working on some skill we have been teaching her."

Kunimoto, who has only been doing freestyle (Olympic style) wrestling for two years, said: "I got a taste of being in the Olympic program at the camp. There was a big difference in my skill before and after the camp. They taught a lot of good technique and strategy."

After the camp, Bennett said, "I've gained a lot of respect for the work ethic of the girls."

Of the residency program, he said: "Putting these girls in this kind of environment will improve them, and raise the level quality of women's wrestling. As they have success, it will attract more girls."

Chun came from a judo background, winning five junior national championships before she tried wrestling in her junior year at Roosevelt. She and Kunimoto won championships at the first Hawai'i state high school girls wrestling tournament in 1998. Chun repeated in '99, while Kunimoto was second to Moanalua's Shelley-Ann Tomita.

Chun went on to win numerous championships and honors with the nation's top-rated women's collegiate program at Missouri Valley and with the women's national team.

Clarisa Chun, had the advantage over Julie Gonzales of San Francisco State at the U.S. Open Nationals in Las Vegas in April.

Photo courtesy Clarissa Chun

She already has extensive international experience, winning three silver medals in the Pan American Championships in Columbia, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, wrestling for the U.S. in the first women's World Cup in France last November (she went 3-3) and an international tournament in Sweden (gold medal), and against the Chinese national and army teams on a college team trip to Beijing in June.

She only let the torn ACL keep her off the mat about a month. "They told me I was crazy, to take it easy, but I couldn't," she said. But it did affect her performance this spring.

Kunimoto went to the University of Hawai'i, which has no team, and made the cheerleading squad in her freshman year. She was offered a wrestling scholarship at Cumberland (Ky.) College in 2000-01 and took it. But the coach left and she transferred again to Pacific (Ore.) at the urging of Jill Remiticado, another Hawai'i girls wrestling pioneer, to join the first varsity team there.

While Chun will transfer to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Kunimoto is reluctant to become a triple-transfer and said she may wait to finish her double major in political science and philosophy at Pacific.

She might change her mind when her residents' packet arrives and she learns that all Training Center residents are eligible for annual educational grants up to $15,000 from the federally funded B.J. Stupak Olympic Scholarship Program.

OVERTIME: Residencies were offered to women in seven weight groups, although the 2004 Olympic Games will have only four. Katie Kunimoto will have to go up or down from her 112-pound group.... There will be three residents in Clarissa Chun's 105.5-pound group and two at Kunimoto's weight.... The wrestlers who beat them for championships at the World Team Trials will be residents.... Three other women from Hawai'i — Jill Remiticado and Donnell Bradley of 'Aiea and Laura Obuhanych of 'Ewa Beach — placed fifth in the Challenge Tournament preceding the World Team Trials.... First event for the USA will be the World Championships in Athens Nov. 2-3. The Pan American Games, foreign tours, U.S. Nationals and other prestige events also are on their calendar.

• • •


Clarissa Chun

• Hawai'i state high school champion, 1998-99

• U.S. Collegiate Nationals champion 2000

• Silver medal at Pan American Championships, 2000-01-02

• Won international open in Sweden 2001

• Won international open in Phoenix 2001

• U.S. University Nationals champion 2001

• Fourth place, U.S. Nationals 2002

• Runner-up at USA World Team Trials, 2001, 2002

• Represented USA in first Women's World Cup 2001 in Levalois, France

Current weight class: 48 kg (105.5 pounds)

Katie Kunimoto

• Hawai'i state high school champion 1998

• Hawai'i state high school runner-up 1999

• Second place, US Girls Championships 2001

• Fourth place, NAIA Championships 2002

• Fifth place at U.S. Nationals 2002

• Runner-up at USA World Team Trials 2002

Current weight class: 51 kg (112 pounds)