Following the unexpected passing of De La Salle wrestling coach Mark Halvorson on Monday, Feb. 15, we wanted to reshare the story from the 2017 spring Union magazine that features Mark and his involvement with the United States Wrestling Program during the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Representing the USA and the De La Salle Community at the 2016 Olympics
Coach Mark Halvorson
For Head Wrestling Coach Mark Halvorson, the 2016 Olympic Wrestling experience in Rio De Janeiro was “like being at the Super Bowl of the sport.” Halvorson, who has been a part of international competitions such as the Pan-American Championships and the World Wrestling Championships, noted that “there were so many more layers to the Olympics than at those other competitions. The media and the promotion involved, the sponsors, the athletes for all the different sports. Everything was bigger.”
As a wrestler, Halvorson competed at the highest level and was a National Champion Greco Roman wrestler. After his competitive career ended, he began coaching at the Concord Youth Center (CYC) before being asked in 1999 to head the team at De La Salle. Halvorson continues to coach at the CYC, along with his involvement with USA Wrestling.
The early years at De La Salle were challenging, as the program was still very young. “We were just trying to teach the kids to like the sport of wrestling. That first year, there was no wrestling culture. My team goal was to finish third place in the league, and the kids thought I was out of my mind,” said Halvorson. “It was more about teaching than training, and we were constantly motivating the kids.”
By 2009, De La Salle had built that culture and was able to hang its first North Coast Section banner and from there, “the success really started to feed off itself.” Eight years later, the program has become one of the top in the state. “I think one of the things that we are most proud of is the number of wrestlers who have gone through the program and are now giving back to the team. Alumni like Brandon Zoetewey ’05, Joey Moita ’12, and Jonathan Clark ‘04)-- who is now teaching Chemistry and coaching at De La Salle this year, is a great addition to the program.”
Halvorson’s first involvement with any National Team was in 2000 at the Cadet level. After building the program at the CYC and having a good deal of success, his teams began wrestling at international competitions, and he started building relationships with the coaches at the higher levels. “As I began assisting with the younger national teams, I think they liked what I brought to the program, and over time I was asked to do more and be more involved.” Halvorson moved his way up, working with older and more experienced teams at world competitions, and was eventually tapped for the National Team.
This past summer at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Halvorson and the USA squad started a few days later than most, as they arrived three days after the opening ceremonies. Once there, he quickly saw that it was bigger than anything he had experienced before. “You know it is something special. A lot of people have asked me what Rio was like, but we really didn’t get out much. You aren’t there on a vacation, you are so focused on your athletes and their competition. There is so much on the line and so many external factors and layers that come into play--the media, the promotion, all these things the athletes have to deal with--and you have to manage as a coach, trying to keep the athletes on track. Even the matches themselves have a different feel to them. For the wrestlers at that level, their only goal is that medal and the chance to go home to their country a hero.”
The Olympic Village, home to hundreds of athletes and coaches, was also a new experience. “It was a lot of hustle and bustle – mainly athletes trying to navigate the waters and get from one place to another.” There are so many people going in a hundred different directions; dining halls, workout facilities, shuttles going to and from competition venues, you name it. There really wasn’t a lot of social things involved. Most of the athletes were really focused.”
As the completion drew to a close, the National Wrestling Team was able to experience the Closing Ceremonies, whereas Halvorson remembers, “There was a great feeling of comradery and accomplishment. Just a lot of happy people.”
As he reflected back on his experience, Halvorson noted that attending the Olympics was his highest coaching honor, “but I have had experiences here at De La Salle coaching kids that are just as significant. I always tell the kids that I want them to reach their full potential. But one kid’s potential is not going to be the same as another kid. One could be a state champion, where another might be working hard to place at a varsity tournament. We want everyone to reach that potential, and I get as much out of that as anything.”
For years to come, the De La Salle program will also reap the benefits of Halvorson’s experience. “A lot of the things I have learned at the national level, I am able to implement at De La Salle and the CYC. Training modalities, psychology, physiology, nutrition, so many variables, so it really is a win-win.”