'How I always am': Karaoke machine in tow, Tamyra Mensah-Stock dominates, sings way to wrestling finals
- Tamyra Mensah-Stock will wrestle for gold in women's freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday.
- Mensah-Stock packed her own karaoke machine for Japan.
- She was the 2019 world champion in her weight class.
CHIBA, Japan — Of all the items required for a trip to the Tokyo Olympics, one possession topped Tamyra Mensah-Stock's list.
Followed by: 2) Xbox. 3) Nintendo Switch.
If the women's 68kg freestyle wrestling finalist – who will go for gold Tuesday night – was going to do her first Games experience right, she would unapologetically be herself and have a damn good time doing just that.
“I’m here. To enjoy. The journey,” Mensah-Stock said, cadencing the phrase for emphasis, in the mixed zone following her 10-4 victory over Ukrainian Alla Cherkasova in the semifinals Monday night at Makuhari Messe Hall. “And I am.”
USA Wrestling brought its teams to a pre-Olympics training camp in Nakatsugawa, Japan, about halfway between Tokyo and Kyoto.
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"They let me karaoke, literally, every single day," Mensah-Stock said. "It was awesome."
The 2019 world champion in her weight class tried to convince the entire team to step up to the mic with her. She nudged them along
"Come on, just one song," she said. "It’s been a fun, fun time. And I greatly appreciate how much fun I’ve had. I know when to get serious. Now is the time – well, then (during the match) was the time to get serious. Now is the time to enjoy the journey. It’s been a blast.”
She corrected herself because, while speaking to the media can be akin to pulling teeth for some, she could have convinced anyone standing there she was having the time of her life.
Back in Nakatsugawa, her teammates battled her on the Nintendo Switch when she wasn't serenading them. The karaoke selections spanned genres from country to rap to rock to gospel. With Greco-Roman wrestler Alejandro Sancho, the duo performed Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life.”
“Literally, for hours, practically, every day,” Mensah-Stock – better believe she brought two microphones – said of the ballading. “I didn’t want to sit in my room and just let the time go by slowly, dreading the fact that I’m going to the Olympics. So I’m like, enjoy yourself.”
Her success on the mat might also have something to do with her mood. In the early session here Tuesday, she scored back-to-back technical victories (10-0) to advance to the semifinals. Against Cherkasova, the 2018 world champion, Mensah-Stock executed a two-point takedown to assume the lead after a scoreless first two minutes. Out of the break, Cherkasova returned the favor and a takedown to take a two-point lead. But Mensah-Stock recovered to escape and tie it at 4.
Another Mensah-Stock takedown and exposure made it 8-4 with more than a minute left.
"I actually appreciated my (semifinal match), because I didn’t want to come out, like, unscathed," she said. "It would have been cool, but to be able and be in the finals, that would mean more than getting techs and pins. Be like, ‘Nah, I fought for that.’ That was freaking awesome, so I appreciate that."
Cherkasova had bested Mensah-Stock in their last two meetings. On the way to the mat, Mensah-Stock – a devout Christian – listened to a song called “Get Your Blessing.”
She later performed a rendition with sweat still pouring out of her.
“So I was like, ‘I gotta get my blessing, go get it, go get it, go get your blessing,’” she crooned as she broke out into song.
Perhaps the song choice was a coincidence. Her opponent in Tuesday night's final? Blessing Oborududu of Nigeria.
“It’s a dream come true!” she said followed by a squeal of excitement. “It means a lot. It’s what I’ve been working for.”
That level of energy after a grueling match, her third of the day, is simply who the Texas native is.
“Five minutes and I’m right back at it,” she said.
Mensah-Stock can recite her heritage with precision: 52% Ghanian, she says. Her father lived in Africa until he was 30.
"He got into fights all the time, coming to and from school. He loved the fact that I had joined wrestling, he just wanted to see his baby girl fight," she said. "Probably where that came from. And on top of that, my mom grew up in Chicago, Illinois – and she had to fight too. I’ll leave it at that."
He was her biggest fan.
Her father died in a car accident while leaving one of her tournaments. She still carries his inclination to fight. But where does the desire for an extra challenge, as she craved against Cherkasova, come from?
"I’m not entirely sure. I like to showcase what God’s given me, so going out there and inflicting my will, it’s fun," she said. "Because it makes me surprised what I’m capable of. And when I go out there and I do it, it’s awesome. So I love getting that moment."
Mensah-Stock is the first to mention she has a night’s rest and a whole day before her gold-medal match. She'll spend Monday into Tuesday ensuring that she makes weight, then might stay in bed and watch “The Walking Dead.”
"No need to be tense the entire time," she said. "That’s just stressful. I’m not about that life."
And then Mensah-Stock, still singing, hopped away from the mixed zone with dual peace signs in the air.
"I’m me … this is how I always am," she said. "I’m not going to change."
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.