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|National champions Q&A: Stephanie Murata|
By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling
For a seven-year stretch (1996-2002), Stephanie Murata won the U.S. Nationals every year, and was one of the true stars of U.S. women's wrestling. She was able to win a World silver medal in 2001, and played an important role in helping build the United States into a world power in the sport.
When the IOC announced that women's wrestling would have just four weight classes at the 2004 Olympic Games, Murata was one of the athletes who were forced to change weight divisions. She moved up from her normal 112.25 pounds to 121 pounds and made a strong run for the Olympic team, but fell short of that goal.
This season, Murata has returned to the division where she has had her most success, and enters the World Team Trials as the No. 1 athlete in a very deep field at 51 kg/112.25 pounds.
TheMat.com sat down with Muirata to talk about her continued success and what the future holds for her within wrestling.
TheMat.com: How does it feel to win the U.S. Nationals again, after a few seasons since your last title?
Murata: Part of it is that I was at a different weight class those years. I knew it would be a challenge and would be different for me. I am more comfortable at this weight class and perform better at 51 kg. That said, it is good to be back as national champion.
TheMat.com: Why is it that 51 kg is the best weight for you?
Murata: I don't think I was big enough at 55 kg. It is not about strength, but about the actual weight. The opponents are so much stronger there, and that extra weight that they carry makes a big difference. Everybody is a little more equal here at 51 kg. I can compete at the other weight, because I am strong enough, but not being as heavy makes a difference.
TheMat.com: How much does your experience give you an edge against some of the young talents in your division?
Murata: The more experience you have, the more times you are in the finals and are in competitive situations, the better you perform when put in those situations. That is the biggest edge, right there.
TheMat.com: What motivates you to continue competing?
Murata: The biggest thing are the two big goals that have eluded me, winning the World Championships and going to the Olympics. Neither happened for me. That is the biggest driving force for me.
TheMat.com: Do you plan on making a run for the 2008 Olympics?
Murata: I'm not planning on trying for the next Olympics. I plan to go to school and focus on other areas of my life. I want to focus on other things besides wrestling. I will concentrate on this World Championships, and hopefully will do very well.
TheMat.com: What is the biggest difference in women's wrestling now, in comparison to when you started competing?
Murata: I think the women have improved a lot. Back then, there were a few dominant countries, and there was a big gap in ability to the developing countries. The ones that are developing have done a tremendous job and have come a long way. For example, in the World Cup last week, we wrestled against Venezuela. Nobody had an easy match. We had to wrestle; there was nothing given to us. That may not have been the case in the past. It is nice to see people strengthening their teams and being competitive.
TheMat.com: What affect have the new rules had on your wrestling, and do you like them?
Murata: I don't know if I like them. Some of them are good. I don't like them all. As far as my wrestling, they are fine. They don't help or hinder me. It favors somebody who is explosive. If you push somebody off the mat, I don't think it should be worth a point. It can be arbitrary. But only time will tell how effective they are. It is better to pick something and stick with it for awhile, so the fans can understand it. If the competitors have trouble understanding the rules, it is hard to be a spectator and try to know the sport.
TheMat.com: Do you still have fun wrestling?
Murata: Actually, that is what I like the most, the actual wrestling and the working out. That is the part that I like the best. I really don't enjoy some of the other things quite as much.
TheMat.com: Are you excited about the World Team Trials this year?
Murata: I am anxious about the World Team Trials, so I don't have to worry about the national competition any more. That is so you can focus on the international teams and the World Championships. However, you have to take it one step at a time. I want to get through the World Team Trials so I can know if I will be going to the World tournament this year.