LONDON -- For many athletes, marching into the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies of an Olympic Games represents the pinnacle of their careers.
That won't be the case for Bakersfield's Jake Varner tonight.
The freestyle wrestler will go as far as to say it will be fun to be part of the event, but he isn't about to spend much time reflecting on it.
"That isn't why I'm coming to London," said the 2005 graduate from Bakersfield High, shortly before boarding a flight to England along with the rest of his wrestling teammates. "I'm coming in to win the Olympics. That's why I'm doing this right now. It's not just being an Olympian, win some matches. My goal is to come in and win the Olympics. That's always been my plan, my goal these four, five, six years. It's just what I've been training for. ... I think most people would agree coming into the Olympics, they're not just going to have a good time, they're going to compete hard and to give their best and to win a gold medal."
After participating in Friday's gala opening, Varner will stay in London on Saturday — the opening day of Olympic competition — before heading to Belarus on Sunday for a training minicamp. He returns Aug. 6, in advance of his competition, the 96-kilogram category, which takes place in the ExCel London arena August 12, the final day of the Games.
For those six days, he’ll stay in residences at the University of East London, to steer clear of the hoopla of the Athletes Village and the many boisterous athletes who will be done with their competitions by that point in the Games.
With that kind of distraction, not to mention having to patiently wait two weeks to finally get his turn for glory, Varner has one of the most difficult schedules of any U.S. Olympian. But with his laser-like focus on winning an Olympic title, he doesn’t look at things that way.
“It doesn’t really matter to me, whether it’s the first day, last day,” said Varner, who narrowly missed qualifying for the Beijing Games in 2008. “I just want to get my chance to compete and it’s on the last day so I guess I can end it the right way and do my best and bring home that gold medal.”
Varner – who won two state championships in high school, two NCAA championships at Iowa State and a bronze medal at the World Championships in Istanbul last year – said his training heading into the Games has been perfect. He spent a week earlier this month at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., before returning to his home base in State College, Pa., the past couple of weeks, where he did a bit of fine-tuning before leaving for London.
As the competition looms, he said he feels ideal physically, with no ailments of any kind, is mentally as prepared as he’ll ever be, and is ready to “leave it all out there on the mat.”
He added that he’s looking forward to having his family and a few friends on hand in London to share the experience with him.
He’s also happy to have received plenty of support from people back in Bakersfield.
“Thanks to the Olympics,” he said, “it’s kind of cool that you hear from people that you haven’t heard from since high school.”