Iowa wrestler Spencer Lee won't compete at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials due to ACL injuries

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

Spencer Lee is going to have to wait to chase his Olympic dreams … again.

Lee, the Iowa wrestling program's star lightweight, announced Friday that he won't compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials, set for April 2-3 at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

"With careful consideration, I have made the difficult decision to withdraw from the United States Olympic Trials," Lee said in a statement released on his Twitter account.

"It is not an easy decision, but after consulting with my coaches, family, brothers and medical staff, I know it is the right decision."

Lee's wrestling stardom hit new heights last week when he won his third individual NCAA title and then revealed he did so on two torn ACLs. He went 5-0 and outscored his opponents 59-8 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis. In doing so, he led the Hawkeyes to their first national team championship since 2010.

"Unofficially, you're probably looking at a two-time Hodge Trophy winner," Iowa coach Tom Brands said last week. "When it's time to show up, he's for real."

Neither Lee nor Iowa offered a timeline for potential surgery and recovery time. He said last week that he re-tore his right ACL during the 2019 NCAA finals, where he beat Virginia's Jack Mueller, 5-0, then tore his left during the 2021 Big Ten finals, where he beat Purdue's Devin Schroder, 21-3.

"Two national titles without ACLs," Lee, the 2020 Hodge Trophy winner, said last week. "Been a lot of fun."

Lee will take a 35-match win streak into the 2021-22 collegiate season. During that stretch, he's outscored his opponents 430-40. He became just the seventh three-time NCAA champion in Iowa history last week, joining Ed Banach, Tom Brands, Barry Davis, Lincoln McIlravy, Joe Williams and Jim Zalesky.

Only four wrestlers in NCAA history have ever won four Division I national titles: Oklahoma State's Pat Smith, Iowa State's Cael Sanderson, Cornell's Kyle Dake and Ohio State's Logan Stieber. Lee could become the fifth next season.

That has always been his goal, of course, but so is winning Olympic gold. He originally qualified for the Olympic Trials after winning the U.S. Senior men's freestyle national championships in December 2019, outscoring his opponents 52-6 en route to first place at 57 kilograms (125 pounds).

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the International Olympic Committee to postpone the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo to 2021. As a result, USA Wrestling pushed the Olympic Trials back from April 2020 to next week.

Lee will have to wait even longer now because of his knee injuries.

The 2022 NCAA Championships are set for March 17-19 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. The Hawkeyes will be among the top contenders for the team title.

After that, the 2024 Olympics will be held in Paris. His mother, Cathy, is originally from France. What's more, when Lee won his second Junior men's freestyle world title, in 2016, it was also in France.

"I am confident we will create a path that allows for a stronger and healthy return to competition," Lee's statement said. "I cherish every opportunity I have to step on the mat with my brothers. We overcame adversity together and we won a national title together.

"I have been blessed with unconditional support at the University of Iowa and I will offer the same to my teammates and coaches as they pursue Olympic gold medals while representing the United States in Tokyo. Go Team USA!"

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.