Pitt Wrestler Pursues Dream

Keith Gavin wasn't a national championship contender his first few years at Pitt, let alone an Olympic hopeful. After a change in strategy and philosophy that has all changed for the Scranton native.

University of Pittsburgh senior wrestler Keith Gavin won the national championship in the 174-pound class last month.

  Now he has his sights set on perhaps an even more prestigious prize: the Olympics.

  This weekend Gavin participates in the U.S. National Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas.

  He's already secured a spot in the Olympic trials after winning the University Freestyle Nationals in Akron on April 15, participating in the 74-kilogram (163-pound) weight class.

  The Olympic trials will be held at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas from June 13-15.

  "The Olympics have always been a goal of mine," Gavin said. "I was never focused on going to them in college but now that I'm here I am."

  Gavin won his championship with a 33-0 record during his senior season at Pitt, finishing as the Panthers' first undefeated wrestler since Pat Santoro in 1988.

  For those not familiar with Gavin's career, it was the culmination of a rags-to-riches story. Coming out of Factoryville, Pennsylvania (Scranton area), he had never finished higher than third in the state in high school.

  He came to Pitt after literally cold calling the program asking head coach Rande Stottlemyer to take a look at him, then lost the first five matches of his career in the 165-pound weight class.

  Gavin is defensive of this period of his wrestling career, pointing out one of the five losses was to eventual National Champion Troy Letters (Shaler) of Lehigh. After a stint as a 157-pounder sophomore, Gavin redshirted in 2005-06 and came back with a vengeance as a 174-pound junior.

  He posted a 28-4 record in 2006-07 and was named Pennsylvania's top college wrestler by Wrestling Report after winning the Eastern Wrestling League championship and finishing second in the country to two-time NCAA champion Ben Askren of Missouri.

  "I kind of believed in myself and never lost that when I was struggling," Gavin said.

  It is not a stretch to say Gavin is a thinking man's wrestler. He rarely shows much emotion after a triumph and majors in philosophy at Pitt.

  "It was the only class I enjoyed. Others were just memorizing facts. Philosophy was about gaining knowledge and that's what school's all about," said Gavin, who started at Pitt as a psychology major. 

  Furthermore, Gavin credits much of his success to mindset.

  "It's mostly mental and technique," he said. "I try to stay relaxed and focus on what I'm going to do rather than what my opponent will.

  "I like to focus on positioning and stay in good position through the match," Gavin continued. "I'm always making changes. Originally I thought I had to be aggressive but positioning is the most impressive thing."

  In fact, Gavin now needs to learn a different style of positioning than he is used to. The Olympics utilize freestyle wrestling- a different style than the NCAA uses- so even though the gains he can make on paper this weekend in Las Vegas are minimal they provide experience.

  Of course, something other than a new technique could potentially sidetrack Gavin's success, the rumored United States boycott of the 2008 Beijing Games.

  He states the rumors aren't talked about much at the competitions he's been involved in, but had thoughts on the subject.

  "We would all be against a boycott. People have given their lives- you put your whole life on hold for this," Gavin said, adding the Olympics are the pinnacle of a wrestler's career.

  "I understand people don't agree with the human right situation in China. I don't agree with it either, but we shouldn't punish the athletes."


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