Blunt Bernard: 'I wasn't ready' to wrestle

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 10, 2012 - 7:03 AM

With a shot to rewrite the end of her career, the New Ulm wrestler went out tentatively in first round.

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LONDON - Once she lost her first-round match Thursday, Ali Bernard felt it was inevitable. There was no point in sticking around to watch her conqueror, Sweden's Jenny Fransson, wrestle Stanka Zlateva in the second round of the women's 72-kilogram class at Excel London.

Bernard, of New Ulm, expected Fransson would have no chance against the five-time world champion from Bulgaria. She was right. After defeating Bernard 3-0, 3-1, Fransson needed to make it to the finals to give Bernard a chance to wrestle again. Zlateva beat her 1-0, 1-0, knocking Bernard out of the Olympic tournament in very short order.

Bernard offered no excuses. She never got going against Fransson, whom she defeated at the 2011 world championships en route to a bronze medal. Bernard finished 13th in her second Olympics and expects to retire from her sport soon.

"I wasn't ready,'' said Bernard, who finished fifth at the Beijing Games, adding that she wrestled poorly Thursday. "This is where I should have put it on the line, and I didn't. I kind of deserved it.

"In the first round, I should have definitely gone after her. I've never lost to her. I showed her too much respect. But I can't go back now.''

Making it to London had been a bonus for Bernard, who also was dispatched swiftly at the U.S. Olympic trials in April. She was named to the Olympic team in late June, when Stephany Lee, who swept Bernard in the championship series at the trials, was suspended and booted from the team after testing positive for marijuana.

Bernard hoped for a better showing in London. She appeared focused when she paraded to the mat, but she was not sharp. Fransson scored three points on a late headlock in the first period to win it, then went up 1-0 in the second.

Bernard evened the score with a takedown, but she could not hold on. With one second left, Fransson got a takedown to win the period and capture the match. The U.S. coaches challenged the late points, but their appeal was denied.

"It's my own fault,'' said Bernard, who added she was not surprised by anything Fransson did. "I stopped wrestling. I have no one to blame but myself.''

After the trials, Bernard missed only about a week of training, and U.S. women's national coach Terry Steiner had high hopes for her. Her bronze medal at last year's world championships had pumped up her confidence, fueling the Americans' belief that all four of their women could bring medals home from London. Clarissa Chun is the only one who will, after winning bronze in the 48-kilogram class.

Steiner echoed Bernard's belief that she should have gone on the attack against Fransson.

"Ali was way too conservative,'' he said. "It was too much of a chess match. She never got herself opened up. We didn't do enough to make it happen out there.''

About 13 of Bernard's family members and friends -- who have called themselves the Ali Cats since they first followed her to the 2008 Games -- came to London to watch her wrestle. She viewed the Olympics as a second chance to end her career on a memorable note, after her poor performance at the trials.

She felt frustrated that she hadn't given them much to see and even more frustrated that she couldn't create the ending she wanted.

"I'm pretty upset,'' Bernard said. "I got a second chance and messed it up. I came out and wrestled four minutes and didn't do the job. I just didn't have my head in it in the first period, and it cost me.''

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