- By Tom Archdeacon columnist
When it comes to sports, she takes after her dad, not her mom.
George, her dad, wrestled in high school, then at Wilmington College.
Her mom, Tracie, was a cheerleader at Middletown High School.
“I do have to admit I did cheerleading one year,” Olivia Shore said reluctantly and with a bit of disdain. “It was fourth grade and it was only because I could do a back flip. My sister was cheering and they said, ‘We need a tumbler.’
“I said, ‘All right, here’s the deal. I’ll stand in the middle. I’ll do a back flip and when I’m done I’m sitting there. I’ll clap my hands, but I do not like this.’
“It just wasn’t my thing. I’m definitely a tomboy. I like the grueling, grinding stuff. I’m not a girlie girl.”
So as cheerleader, did she wear a skirt?
“I had to wear it all,” she sniffed. “Good thing it was in fourth grade. I hope my mom still doesn’t have any of those pictures.”
Olivia was recounting the story the other day after she had just come out of the Miami East wrestling room, which, like all grappler dens, is hot, smelly and, during practice, filled with more than a few grimaces and grunts from the guys.
After almost two hours in there, her hair was dampened and matted to her forehead and her wrestling singlet was sweat-soaked, too.
A 15-year-old freshman at Miami East High, Olivia isn’t just the 106-pounder on the Vikings’ boys wresting team, she’s a reigning girls Cadet National Freestyle champion who trained much of the summer at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and represented the country at the Cadet World Championships in Athens, Greece in September.
In December she became the first girl to place at the prestigious Medina Invitational in the 43-year history of the wrestling tournament.
Saturday, she became the first girl to win the Lima Central Catholic Thunderbird Invitational, and she got a rousing standing ovation.
Although her main focus is still the national and international competitions for girls, she hopes to become the second girl ever to qualify for the Ohio state high school tournament this year and the first to place.
As Miami East assistant coach Rich Randall put it: “We want to make history.”
And after that Olivia is setting her sights on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
But that’s getting ahead of the story.
Right now, she’s immersed in the middle of the wrestling season, and though it’s a grind — the boys she faces are often older and taller, usually stronger and, before cutting weight, several pounds heavier — she has a 24-7 record this season.
“Truthfully, every win now is a bonus,” Tracie said. “It’s the same if she can make it to state and place. But ultimately this is about making her tougher and better when she wrestles against girls.
“This is a great preparation for the club season and the national tournaments. That’s the goal — to be the best girl in girls’ wrestling, not necessarily the best girl in boys’ wrestling.”
That said, Olivia more than holds her own against the boys, said Miami East head coach Mark Rose:
“She’s tough as nails. I couldn’t ask for a better wrestler than her. When you consider her resume, she is, by far, the most accomplished wrestler I’ve ever coached.”
That’s saying a lot.
He has had state champions at Miami East and his roster this year has three guys with college offers for next season, including Olivia’s brother Graham, who is a three-time state qualifier, is currently 31-1 and is headed to the Air Force Academy in July.
“She works harder than every dude on our team, myself included,” Graham said. “She’s always in the wrestling room or the weight room.”
That work ethic, her resume and the efforts of the Miami East coaches to accommodate her has made her first season with the boys one with few uncomfortable glitches.
But that’s not always been the case for girls, as Emma Nelson, one of two girl wrestlers at Greenon High, pointed out when her team faced the Vikings in last Wednesday night’s OHSAA state team duals at Troy Christian.
A junior, Emma is in her first season of high school wrestling:
“I wrestled once before when I was in the sixth grade, but I ended up stopping because the boys made fun of me for being female. It was difficult for me and my self-esteem.”
That’s changed, in part, because of Olivia and her parents, who run the Shore Sports Club in St. Paris, where they live and George is a chiropractor.
The Sports Club — “it was my uncle’s old chrome shop that we had fixed into a wrestling club,” Olivia explained — not only offers instruction for young boys and girls, but it’s home to the Ohio national girls team, for which George is a coach and Tracie is the director.
“With Olivia doing this we kind of started a movement in the state with girls,” Tracie said. “With Ohio’s national team we take girls all over the country to compete and help them get college scholarships. Hopefully we’ll get our own (high school) league one day, too.”
She said Ohio has 200 girls certified to wrestle on boys’ teams this season. Nationally, according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA), there are 11,496 girls involved in prep wrestling across the country.
Seven states — but not Ohio — sponsor girls high school wrestling and another nine are pursing the idea, according to the NWCA.
Some 30 colleges sponsor women’s wrestling programs. Tiffin University will launch its inaugural season next school year and Mount St. Joseph is said to be considering it.
Women’s wrestling first joined the Olympics at the 2004 Games in Athens and now that’s a real goal for girls, especially those in Ohio.
“Over the last three years we’ve had three world team members and many of the nation’s top recruits,” Tracie said. “And when you look at all the good girls around Olivia’s age we have now, you see we are about to make some real noise nationally.
“So really this has become a lot bigger than just Olivia.”
‘Jumped right in’
George and Tracie have eight children, all of whom have wrestled at some time along the way,
Olivia’s two older sister flirted briefly with the sport and then moved on, but Graham is one of the top 120-pounders in the state and the family’s four younger boys all are involved in junior high or youth wrestling.
“Olivia was barely four years old when she saw her brother wrestling and after that we could barely keep her off the mat,” George said.
Tracie laughed at the memory: “We thought, ‘OK, we’ll take her to practice and let her get beat up and that’ll be the end of that.’ But she went and beat everybody else up. So we were like, ‘Oh gosh, what do we do now?’
“It kind of became its own animal. We let her dictate what she wanted to do and she jumped right in.”
George isn’t surprised. He said she pitched boys’ baseball for years and played flag football with the boys.
“She has a freak athleticism,” he said. “From five years old she could do no-handed back flips. And that’s without ever having a gymnastics class. She could do any cartwheel, climb a rope with using her feet, do 90 pull-ups.
“She’s just a God-gifted athlete and if you translated that into the hard work of wrestling, it made her kind of like a cheetah.”
While he has instructed his daughter, as has Miami East assistant coach Rich Randall and now Rose, she’s also been a longtime student of Coach Miron Kharchilava, who was a member of the Soviet National Team before coming to the U.S. and has served as an assistant coach at Ohio State, Indiana University and Findlay and the head coach of the U.S. Freestyle World Championship Team.
He now runs Team Miron Wrestling in Dublin and made Olivia the only girl he has trained.
Olivia’s talent and training have paid off, especially when she was at Graham Middle School and became the first girl to win Central Buckeye Conference wrestling titles as a seventh- and eighth-grader.
The boys she beat in those title matches weren’t too happy. She said one cried and one told everybody he didn’t try because she was a girl:
“I said, ‘If you want to say that, that’s fine with me. I’m still the champ.’ ”
Olivia transferred to Miami East this past fall, but before that came an eventful spring and summer.
She stunned everyone when — as an eighth-grader wrestling against girls who were mostly high school juniors and seniors, her dad said — she won the Cadet National Freestyle title in Texas. That qualified her for the world championship.
In between, she competed in the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Freestyle Cadet Nationals in Fargo, North Dakota, in July and won there, too.
At the world championship in Athens — the trip was funded in part by donations from people in St. Paris and surrounding communities who were proud of her efforts — she had a first-round bye in the 46 kilogram (101.2 pound) division and then faced the defending world champion, Ekaterina Mikhailova.
She was ahead 2-0 with 50 seconds left in the match when she was caught in a double-leg move that brought her back in contact with the mat, which is considered an instant pin.
In her next match she faced Latvia’s Jekaterina Jermalonoka and again was leading with 30 seconds left, when she missed a move and was pinned.
She figures this high school season will help steel her for her next international tournament, where few competitors will be stronger than some of the boys she’s going up against now.
But while they have size and length and muscle on her, Olivia said she has it all over the boys in one aspect.
While Miami East has provided her with a locker room of her own, she nodded toward the boys’ dressing quarters and laughed:
“I’m neat and feel I care more. But then I already knew that. I have five brothers. And the boys here, they have piles of clothes everywhere in there.
“I have better personal hygiene.”
Although her ears have been pierced, Olivia wears no earrings now.
“Naah, it’s wrestling season, so they’re closed now,” she shrugged. “I’ll pierce them again afterward.”
Her left eyebrow, though, does have a little swatch cut out of it, so it almost resembles a scar.
“I did it on a dare and liked it,” she grinned. “I thought it makes me look mean, so I kept it.”
Troy Christian wrestler Caleb Schroer said, girl or not, “she has a reputation. She’s tough.”
That image is fueled before matches when she paces back and forth behind the bench, dressed in black, a white hoodie over her head, her earbuds in as she listens to music.
“Maybe rap, maybe old school, like John Mellencamp,” she said. “And if I got a super tough match, maybe a little metal to get me pumped up.”
“She always gets a boy’s best shot because nobody wants to lose to the girl,” her dad said.
Coach Randall witnessed that: “In the finals at Troy, a coach who wrestled for me a long time ago at Graham came up. His guy was meeting Olivia and he said, ‘My kid is nervous as crap because he knows her background.’
“I understood. She’s the Cadet national champion, she made the world team and even took the world champ down. I’d be scared, too.”
At the state team duals the other night, she first pinned Greenon’s Alyssa Turner and then was matched against Schroer, a 15-year-old Troy Christian sophomore who at 5-foot-8 and a normal 120 pounds has six inches and over 10 pounds on her.
Still, she was the aggressor through much of the match and gave him a bloody mouth when she reopened a cut on his lip in the second period.
She was leading 2-1 going into last period and then in the final seconds, she went for his ankles but he sprawled out, got her knee up, locked a cradle and turned her for the points and the victory at the buzzer.
The stunning turn of events jarred her and after the traditional handshakes with the rival coaches, she hurried off the mat, slipped behind the bleachers and with emotions rising, pulled off her head gear and flung it at the wall before disappearing behind a closed door.
A couple of minutes later she returned on the verge of tears and sought her dad, who then retreated with her to privacy.
“She’s not used to losing,” Schroer said. “I totally get it.”
When Olivia returned, she was still disconsolate.
“I didn’t really do my moves, he was just so strong,” she said. “I was still pushing the match and then this happened.”
She quieted as she fought the tears again.
“Nobody understands what kind of pressure I have out there,” she said quietly. “They put it all on me and tonight I just didn’t … ”
The emotions welled up and she didn’t finish.
Her dad said he had tried to counsel her, telling her this was a match that was winnable and they could build on the experience:
“She wrestled pretty good and just gave away some points at the end. We can fix this. She hasn’t dealt much with losing. All summer long against girls she never lost.
“I just try to encourage her and let her know she’s close, real close.”
You saw that Saturday when she beat Schroer 7-5 in the LCC final, and the week before when she wrestled Northwestern High freshman Michael Moerch, who is a Jan Van Goiter scholar (3.75 grade-point average), a Life Scout and although a multi-sport athlete for the Warriors, has wrestled for just a couple of years.
Olivia came out aggressively, surprised him and got a quick pin.
As he returned to his bench struggling with his own emotions — “I was frustrated,” he’d say later — he was given some perspective by coach Harry Husted:
“I sat him down and explained just how good Olivia is,” Husted said. “I told him, ‘She‘s just a special athlete. She’s going to be in the Olympics someday.
“You got beat by an elite, world class wrestler.
“She just happens to be a girl.”