After winning his first Big Ten Championship, top-ranked heavyweight Gable Steveson was prepped for a hectic March and April, looking not only to win a national championship but also to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
Steveson made his way to the top of the Big Ten podium after beating No. 3 Tony Cassioppi for the second time this season and knocking off No. 2 Mason Parris in the finals. Remaining undefeated this season, he would return to the mat to close out his season at U.S. Bank Stadium with the chance to secure his first national championship. Unfortunately, not only for Steveson but every athlete who qualified, the NCAA Championships became one of many cancellation casualties due to COVID-19 concerns.
As a native Minnesotan, Steveson had previously expressed his excitement in competing for a national championship at home. Despite being scheduled to compete in the Olympic trials in April, Steveson declined an Olympic redshirt for the 2019-2020 season with the NCAA's in mind.
"I didn't really want to believe it because it was at U.S. Bank Stadium, and I wanted the chance to win a title for us," he said. "It's been hard to believe, but we got to go day-to-day with some things like this, and that was one of them."
In March, the Olympics was another in a long list of sporting events to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with the games being postponed until 2021. The wrestling trials had initially been rescheduled for May, but with the Olympics now taking place in 2021, Steveson hasn't been given a date for the trials.
"It's hard, but right now I think it's just a reset for me. Just taking time and making sure I'm staying up on my game and not worrying about when the next competition is," Steveson said. "Just worrying about how I can make myself better."
Gophers' head coach Brandon Eggum said Steveson will be ready for the trials whenever they take place, and he expects Steveson to be a favorite to make the team. He says the transition in styles, from folkstyle to freestyle, won't be an issue for Steveson.
"Gable's more suited for freestyle, in my opinion, than even folkstyle, and we've seen how good he is in folkstyle," Eggum said.
With the unfortunate end to the 2019-2020 season, Steveson will have to wait to secure his spot on the Olympic team and to win his first national championship. But despite the unfortunate end, Steveson closed the season out on top as an undefeated heavyweight, Big Ten champion and a Hodge Trophy finalist. When competition rolls around again, Steveson will be ready.
"The season meant a lot. It was really nice for me to come back and be a Hodge Trophy finalist and end the season with a Big Ten Championship, even though I wish I would have ended it with a national championship," Steveson said. "It's always going to be a long season, and next year will be the same thing. I just got to reset and got to accomplish my main goal of winning a national championship."