Hernandez has waited for years for another shot at the Olympic wrestling trials
“Actually I’m glad that it turned out that way because I’m a lot hungrier now,” he said. “I’ve had four years to work on what I didn’t know at the time. I was a young, hard-nosed kid, didn’t know too many moves.
“(Coach Dan) Hicks has tweaked a lot stuff, a lot of my style, a lot of my techniques. He’s taught me how to do moves more cleanly. We’ve worked on a lot of stuff for the past couple years. So I’d rather (the injury had happened) than me to have gone to the trials and maybe got my butt kicked and not want to come back.”
Still, it wasn’t easy initially.
“It wasn’t a good feeling, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “But you’ve got to look at the bright side of it, and the bright side is I’ve had four years to train and tweak what I didn’t have at that point.”
Oddly enough, Hernandez faces the real possibility that he could win the trials, be declared an Olympian on paper and still not compete in London. The United States hasn’t qualified anyone at that weight yet, which requires a certain ranking in one of several tournaments leading up to the Olympics, Hicks said.
The plan is to send Justin Ruiz to a tournament in China after the Olympic Trials hoping he’ll qualify, according to Jackie Branca, a spokeswoman for USA wrestling. If that happens, the winner of the Olympic trials would wrestle Ruiz, with the winner going to the Olympics.
There is also one final qualifier in Finland if Ruiz doesn’t prevail in China.
“It’s like a process nobody really realizes,” Hicks said. “You can make the Olympic team (by winning the trials) and not get to compete.”
Whatever happens, Hicks is high on Hernandez.
“He is a very talented individual,” Hicks sad. “He has a decent chance of making the team. But like we discussed, even if he makes it he won’t probably get to go. But he’s still young. He’s really a 2016 (Olympic) guy.
“So making the team, even just qualifying … every little bit helps. I have him targeted as a 2016 five years ago because he was only like 20.”
Hernandez’s mother got him into wrestling and boxing while growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y. Hernandez said he did well in both and actually stuck with boxing longer. But he had a problem. He always wanted to grapple like a wrestler when he was boxing.
“And,” he added, “I don’t like getting punched.”
So wrestling it was — and not just because he didn’t like getting punched.
“It sounds kind of weird to say, but I’ve said to a couple my friends before that there’s a point when you’re warming up before you get on the mat, you’re nervous and you’re sweating and you feel your heart pounding and you hear the crowd and you think about what’s this guy going to do, who’s going to say what, what’s going to happen, what the ref’s going to do,” Hernandez said.
“And the second they call your name and you step on the mat it kind of goes silent. The only thing I can hear is the ref and my coach. There’s people screaming. There’s guys yelling. There’s other guys warming up, music playing. The only voices I hear are the ref’s and coach. It’s surreal, especially if you’re on a big stage.
“You go out there and you just kind of go numb. You just get that tunnel vision. It’s just you and your opponent. For that six minutes that’s the only thing that matters in the world is just competing.”
Except, that is, winning.
“When your hand gets raised, there’s reason why they only raise one person’s hands,” he said. “It’s because you got the victory.”