Olympic bronze medalist Clarissa Chun hired as Iowa's first women's wrestling head coach

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

The Iowa women's wrestling program officially has a coach.

Clarissa Chun, a longtime assistant with USA Wrestling and an Olympic bronze medalist, has been named the Hawkeyes' first women's wrestling head coach. She will be formally introduced Friday afternoon in Iowa City.

"It is an honor to be involved in a historic and exciting opportunity for young women across the country to compete as Hawkeyes in women’s wrestling,” Chun said in a university news release announcing her hire.

“I want to thank (athletics director) Gary Barta, (senior women’s administrator) Barbara Burke and (men's coach) Tom Brands for their initiative and leadership," Chun continued, "which is going to make a positive and lasting impact on the wrestling world.

"This didn’t happen overnight; it took a lot of hard work and investment from community members and the University of Iowa’s administration, and I send a sincere thank you to all who have worked to make this happen."

Clarissa Chun was an Olympic bronze medalist in 2012 and is currently an assistant coach with USA Wrestling's women's freestyle program.

Chun's hire comes less than two months after Iowa became the first Division I Power 5 school to add women's wrestling. The addition, which came in direct response to a Title IX lawsuit, was called a "game-changer" by the wrestling community.

"Clarissa is the perfect fit to lead us in our journey to build a championship women’s wrestling program," Barta said in a statement Thursday.

“Her credentials speak for themselves, and her approach and philosophy match well with our 'Win. Graduate. Do it Right.' values.”

Chun, a 40-year-old Hawaii native, was once one of USA Wrestling's most talented competitors. She won a world title in 2008 and Olympic bronze in 2012. She also won four U.S. Open titles and five Pan-American Championship titles. Next June, she will be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as a Distinguished Member. She is one of only four females to have earned Distinguished Member honors.

In 2017, Chun joined USA Wrestling's staff as an assistant under Terry Steiner, the head coach of the U.S. women's freestyle national team and a past NCAA champion for the Hawkeyes.

With Chun on staff, the U.S. women's wrestling program surged. At the most recent Olympics this year, the U.S. women's freestyle team won four medals, led by Tamyra Mensah-Stock's gold. For perspective: The U.S. had won five all-time Olympic medals in women's freestyle wrestling before winning four in Tokyo.

The U.S. women's freestyle team added seven more medals at the 2021 Senior world championships in October, good for a second-place team finish behind Japan, the world leader in international women's wrestling.

“I am grateful for Coach Terry Steiner’s leadership and mentorship and look forward to continuing our partnership and developing future national, world and Olympic champions for the United States of America," Chun said. "I cannot thank USA Wrestling enough for helping me grow as a person and coach.

“It is a privilege to be a part of the Hawkeye brand. With that comes great responsibility and high expectations. I am ready to meet those challenges and I am excited to build a winning program in Iowa City, Wrestling Town USA.”

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Chun will now bring that experience and expertise to Iowa, where expectations are already large. The Hawkeye women's wrestling team will not start competing until the 2023-24 season. Hiring assistant coaches and recruiting are both likely next on the to-do list.

"Gary Barta and Barbara Burke said from the beginning that they would target the best person for the job and that’s exactly what they did," Brands said Thursday.

"Clarissa Chun has charisma. She has credentials. She has championships. She commands respect and the wrestlers that come to school here are going to love her. This is a big deal for the University of Iowa."

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