Tell Us Your Stories
Former Cougars wrestler living out dreams at Olympics
Posted: August 9, 2012 3:00 p.m.
Olympic Rings suspended from Tower Bridge in London, England. Photo: iStockphoto
While she won four CIS championships during her time at the University of Regina, and another while studying at the University of Alberta, Ali Bernard faced one of the toughest tests of her wrestling career today in London at the Games of the 30th Olympiad. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be as Bernard lost her first-round match in the women’s 72-kilogram freestyle wrestling competition and was eliminated from further competition.
Long-time Cougars wrestling coach Leo McGee recognized Bernard’s unique athletic talents when he recruited her from her hometown of New Ulm, Minnesota.
“Ali just has a different standard of athletic ability, a brilliant mind, topped with that American attitude and the grit to back it up,” McGee says.
For four years, Bernard was a wrestling sensation at the U of R. She first starred for the Cougars in 2005 when she won her first Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championship and was named CIS rookie of the year. She followed up her freshman season with CIS championship wins in the 72-kilogram weight class in 2006 and 2007 and then again in 2008 at the 82-kilogram class.
McGee says that Bernard’s time at the U of R gave her opportunities to develop her skills as well as providing keen competition, something she wasn’t necessarily going to get in her home country.
“In the U.S. university tournaments are restricted to student-athletes, says McGee. “In Canada the majority of all events are open, giving athletes an opportunity to compete against some of the best senior age athletes. At least two of the Canadian university tournaments are strong international events,” he says.
The London Games was Bernard’s second Olympics having competed in Beijing, China in 2008 where she finished fifth. Among her other accomplishments are a bronze medal at last year’s World Championships, a gold medal at the 2010 World University Games and gold medals in 2003 and 2005 and a 2006 bronze in the Junior World Championships. She was also U.S. Senior National champion in 2008.
This is the second athlete McGee has coached that has gone on to compete on the world’s biggest stage. Dean Schmeichel, who starred for the Cougars during the mid-1990s, represented Canada at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.