The week before the 2016 U.S. Senior Nationals Tamyra Mensah got a quick reality check. Her boyfriend pointed to the wall where Mensah hangs her medals and noted that, although there were a lot of them, not many were gold.
“We need to change that this weekend,” he told her.
After runner-up performances at the U.S. World Team trials, Grand Prix of Spain and Bill Farrell International last year, Mensah walked out of the Senior Nationals having broken through that finals barrier. She left Las Vegas with gold hanging from her neck.
“It was bad enough that the coaches were saying that and now I had my boyfriend saying it,” Mensah said. “All those second place finishes really pushed me to go get first place even more. I like being the underdog. Of course, I would like to be on top, but when you are on top you have a target on your back. For me, I like to sit back and watch my opponents and then sneak up and take it from them. That was a big change in my life. To actually have a plaque that said first place, it opened a door somewhere in my mind. It told me that I am more capable than I was aware of. It was awesome.”
Mensah’s rise through the ranks of USA Wrestling started when her sister pulled her off the track and into the wrestling room at Morton Ranch High School in Katy, Texas. Mensah, who had been a sprinter until the age of 16, wound up dominating Texas girls wrestling, ending her high school career with back-to-back state championships.
Legendary Texas wrestling coach Johnny Cobb recruited Mensah to Wayland Baptist University. Cobb coached 2000 Olympic gold medalist and current U.S. National Freestyle coach Brandon Slay while he was wrestling in Texas.
Mensah and Cobb formed an unbreakable bond that translated into success on the mat. Mensah won the 2014 WCWA National Championships and the 2015 University National Championships.
“Coach Cobb is my second dad,” Mensah said. “My dad passed away when I was in high school and I was missing that father figure. He was it when I got to college; sometimes too much of one. He would always be like ‘Don’t do that’ or ‘You can’t date this person’. He is a great guy. He checks in with me at least twice a month. I love him a lot. He has believed in me from the very start. He saw something in me and opened so many doors for me. He will be somebody that is in my life forever.”
A major door that opened for Mensah was the opportunity to train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Mensah still has a year of college eligibility remaining but is taking a redshirt to focus on making the 2016 Olympic Team and train at the OTC with U.S. nationalteam coach Terry Steiner.
“When you put an athlete in an environment like this every day, where she can wrestle and learn from Adeline Gray and Elena Pirozhkova every day, then that athlete will rise up,” Coach Steiner said. “You just have to get them in the right training environment. I credit Coach Cobb for allowing us to get her here at the training center to wrestle with the best athletes. I think it is showing benefits for her on the mat.”
Mensah also sees the benefits of training with the best of the best everyday and has cherished her time in the room with Team USA.
“When I was in college, I would come to camps here at the training center and the intensity would be incredible,” Mensah said. “It is like that every day now, a never ending camp. I am still trying to get use to it. Although the intensity is extreme, I love it. Sometimes it makes me want to break down but I am learning to love it. I just want more. It is a great feeling.”
Coach Steiner sees the energy, the charisma and the pure athleticism in Mensah. He knows that she can be something special if she can continue to learn technique and keep her focus.
“The way she has climbed so quickly, it makes you think she isn’t going to waste this opportunity,” Steiner said. “She understands that she has some God-given ability and knows that she cannot waste this time that she has. At this point in her career she just needs to listen and absorb things. We are in the learning phase with her still and she has been very open-minded. She is a quick study and learns fast. She is going to rise up. With Tamyra, it isn’t if, it’s when. That’s who Tamyra is. If she stays focused and keeps this a priority in her life, which I think she will, then the sky is the limit for her.”
Mensah recently won the bronze medal at the Olympic Test Event in Rio de Janeiro and has recorded many major victories in the past year. She topped 2014 World Champion Aline Focken of Germany at the Grand Prix of Spain and has defeated 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Randi Miller four times, including the finals of the U.S. Open.
“It’s tough wrestling Randi,” Mensah said. “She is always pushing. Even after you get a takedown, she is right back in your face ready to go. That pushes me harder though. I want to beat her back to our feet and be ready to go before her. I like being able to go against her. She is one of our top athletes and knowing that I can overcome what she is bringing makes me think I can overcome people from other countries.”
Coach Steiner not only sees the progression Mensah has made this year, but applauds the competitive fire she carries. Mensah’s battles with Miller will be a highlight of the coming year.
“Randi Miller has been a great part of this program and is nearing the tail end of her career while Tamyra is shooting up the ranks,” Steiner said. “When you have two people like this battling it out, one not wanting to give up her spot and another that is hungry, it makes both of them so much better. As the national coach we need this. We need the competition from within. That drives a program forward that drives our team forward. From a coach’s view, the competition between Tamyra and Randi, you can just kind of sit back and let it happen. Maybe give them pointers here and there but really just them continue to rise up. It is a perfect situation from a national coach perspective.”
With momentum on her side, Mensah is breaking through on the national scene and the world has been put on notice.
“I want Olympic Gold,” Mensah said. “The plan is not done yet. The plan is to make the Olympic Team and win Olympic Gold. I have some revenge vendettas I am coming after. I am coming after them now.”
Mensah returns to her home state for the Pan American Olympic Qualifier at Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco, Texas on March. 4-6. She can’t wait to show off for the home crowd.
“I am extremely excited,” Mensah said. “It’s not because I am wrestling in the Pan Am’s, but I am also finally wrestling in an elite tournament where the Texans I know can come see me wrestle. They have not seen me wrestle in five years, since back in high school. They have been following me on social media and supporting me. For them to see me in action, that’s magical. I love it.”
The Pan American Olympic Qualifier event serves as a major qualifier for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The top two place winners in each of the 18 Olympic weight classes will qualify their nation to compete at the Olympic Games. Pan American nations can only qualify athletes at weight classes which have not yet been qualified for the Rio Games. In total, 36 spots in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are up for grabs.
Tickets for both events can be ordered at the same time. All-Session General Admission prices are $14.50 for a single day pass, $39.50 for a three-day pass and $59.50 for a six-day pass. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.
Please note that the three-day pass will be good for either the three days of the Pan American Championships or for the Pan American Olympic Qualifier, but cannot be used partially for one event and then the rest on the other.
Click here for tickets through Ticketmaster:
Attention Wayland employees and students:
WBU Student Activities is putting together a group to travel to Frisco to watch Tamyra. We would leave early afternoon on Thursday, March 3 and return late on Friday March 4. We are trying to cover all transportation and lodging costs so that all you would have to pay for would be meals! If you are interested in heading to Frisco with us on Thursday March 3, click here to sign up! We need to get an idea of the number of people going so that we can make arrangements so sign up ASAP.
For more information, please visit the Pan American Championships and Pan American Olympic Games Qualifier website at: