By Rachneet Randhawa, October 6 2021—
Erica Wiebe is a Canadian Olympic Champion and gold medalist for Women’s Wrestling, having competed in both the 2016 Rio de Janeiro and 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics games, respectively. She’s also a proud University of Calgary alumna having been the superstar on the former U of C Dinos varsity team a handful of years ago.
She moved to Calgary in 2007 to attend university in which she completed a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology and Bachelors of Arts in Sociology and graduated just shy of her first official competition in the Olympic Games. The Gauntlet sat down for an interview to learn more about her athletic career.
Wiebe began wrestling in grade nine, after seeing a sign posted outside the school’s gymnasium door for wrestling. From there, she continued to explore by joining the wrestling club which helped her build momentum for her official debut on the national team the summer before her senior year in high school. Growing up, her role models included strong and empowered women in sports including her sister who pursued gymnastics and also her mother — both of whom were engineers
“I just really never questioned my spot on the wrestling mat,” she said.
After graduating she committed to moving to Calgary to pursue both her university and athletic career and especially choose this city as it allowed her to be the best version of herself due to its women’s training centre and amenities — including the best coaches and facilities for wrestling.
“So I came to Calgary to be challenged, to be pushed, to be supported,” said Wiebe. “And I felt that every single step of the way, and it wasn’t easy.”
Her Kinesiology professor used to say you earn the right to challenge because of support.
“We were a powerhouse of women’s wrestling at my time as a varsity athlete,” said Wiebe. “And that was because we had this really strong culture of challenging and supporting each other.”
She was later contacted by Christine Nordhagen — one of the pioneers of women’s wrestling — who had written Wiebe a letter as an official invite to reside in Calgary and be mentored by her, as Wiebe mentioned that following in Nordhagen’s footsteps was the “biggest driver” to her wrestling success. During her first year as a rookie, she lost to one of the veteran athletes. However, she continued to support the team and train alongside them.
“Those experiences that really shaped me and embedded this ability of this desire to be resilient and this desire to continue to get up and to keep going every single step. That’s kind of been the defining aspect of my career,” she said.
The history of women’s wrestling in Calgary is fairly recent, and has been pioneered by Dinos coach Mitch Ostberg as one of the early architects of women’s wrestling in Canada in the 1990s. In Wiebe’s perspective, wrestling can be defined as “a sweaty chess match.”
“It’s very technical. It’s very tactical. But it’s also an incredibly physical, hand-to-hand combat sport.”
When asked how she approached her training sessions as a student-athlete, Wiebe claimed that there was a method to the madness, especially having to fail forward after not making the London 2012 Olympic team
“As I evolved as a high-performance athlete, I became a lot more intentional about it, a lot more focused,” she said. “And I had to really go back to the planning books and really assess, did I really leave no stone unturned? Did I really show up every single day with the intention to get one per cent better? Did I commit to a training plan and a practice plan and lay out clearly my goals and the ways I was going to attack them? No. And I really went back to the drawing board and assessed every aspect of how I prepared as an athlete and how I could make small tiny gains. And all of these areas that we’re going to accumulate towards being the best in the world.”
Her golden advice is all about being consistent, which allowed her to be an Olympic champion.
“Every day I showed up for practice and I think consistency sets the table for breakthroughs. That consistency and that dedication [and] intentionality about what we were trying to achieve and where I was trying to go,” Wiebe said. “And I always say that I won the Olympic games on a random Tuesday, many years ago because it wasn’t just showing up on the day of competition. It was, again, that consistency every single day of the journey. Being positive, being supportive, being engaged and giving it my all.”
When the time came to train for the Olympic Games, it was never only about winning for Wiebe, but shooting for the ultimate performance while training on campus.
“I didn’t think that I could survive a single day of training, the next two hours of training, let alone if I was worthy enough to compete at the Olympic Games,” she said. “But at some point, you got to just quiet those voices and you just got to let your body and your mind and your soul float in the full humanity of what you are and who you are and what you can do.”
And now, later as a professional, especially for her training routine in the context of COVID, it was really tough for her to properly prepare for Tokyo as there were a lot of hurdles for a full-on contact sport like wrestling.
Some memorable competitions from Wiebe’s student-athlete journey include the Dinos Open and the Canada West Championship. The Dinos Open is always the first tournament of the varsity season which she entered in 2017 after she had won the Olympics. Unfortunately, she ended up breaking her nose by smashing it against the other player’s kneecap in the final wrestling match against a young woman from Simon Fraser University. Despite this, Wiebe won the match. The Canada West tournament is a dual army format in which you must compete as a team within various classes.
“The best memories I have are competing as a team and pursuing a shared goal as a team,” she said.
As for her professional athletic career, when Wiebe first began, women’s wrestling was not yet a well-known category in the Olympic Games which officially made its debut in 2004. By the time she had competed at the Summer Olympics in 2016, it had become a six weight class.
“So they’re slowly moving towards more gender equity,” she said. “And Canada was one of two countries to qualify a full, six women’s weight classes. And so, to be part of that historic team was amazing.”
Wiebe herself won first place for her performance in the 75 kilograms freestyle wrestling category earning her a coveted gold medal for Canada in 2016.
Some key traits and abilities Wiebe recommends everybody should adopt is being unapologetic about who you are and living your truth, raising everybody around you to live to their fullest potential. You can do this in two ways — firstly, having an incredible support system and secondly, setting an incredibly challenging goal.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have a team of incredible people around me that are inspiring and supportive and challenging.”
When asked how to get women and girls more involved in sports at a younger age, Wiebe said it’s crucial to be a good role model by having great coaches, great programs and structuring sports experiences around positivity and teamwork which would allow one to feel empowered in their own body. For instance, Wiebe is also actively involved with a number of different organizations and raised $12,000 this past summer for youth in sports.
“I recognized that not only are there some sociological and psychological barriers to getting girls involved in sport but there’s also a lot of financial barriers,” said Wiebe, identifying the two key things that are the foundation for keeping girls interested in sports are being empowered in their body and feeling confident in who you are.
For youth and students interested in getting more involved in sports, Wiebe mentioned there are so many opportunities from volunteering to joining a fundraising commitment to trying out as a referee. At the end of the day, it’s all about community.
“I think finding ways to kind of be involved in a community after sport is incredibly powerful.”