BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Mekhi Lewis won’t be defending his NCAA title in the 165-pound weight class next season.
Virginia Tech’s first-ever national champion in wrestling has decided to utilize an Olympic redshirt this season to focus on qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games.
“I always wanted to wrestle in the Olympics but I just didn’t know when,” Lewis said Tuesday after the Hokies announced the news in a press release. “When it came up after I won nationals and I realized that the Olympics was the next upcoming year, it was on my mind. It was just a realization to myself, might as well just try.”
Lewis captured the NCAA individual title in March, capping off a freshman season that began with winning a junior world title as well as an ACC championship.
“(Winning a NCAA title) was the ultimate goal, the whole time. It’s just that I had to believe in myself that I could do it,” Lewis said.
But to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, Lewis is hitting the pause button on his collegiate career. Lewis’ gold medal performance at the 2018 Junior World Championships met one of USA Wrestling’s four criteria for an Olympic redshirt. Lewis will retain his year of NCAA eligibility through the athletics activity waiver which allows student-athletes to train for senior level competition – in this case the Olympic Trials – and retain one year of eligibility from the NCAA.
While he’ll be traveling to various events, Lewis will remain based in Blacksburg.
“My coaches are going to have me train pretty hard here and then my training partner is here too to push me,” Lewis said. “Then I’m probably going to be traveling to train at Colorado Springs sometimes where I know a couple people who are training for the Olympics too.”
Hokies assistant coach Jared Frayer competed at the 2012 Olympics in London and mentored Lewis on his way to becoming a junior world champion last year. And Frayer is well aware how difficult Lewis’ path will be to qualify.
“He’s gonna have to become a pro real quick and that encompasses everything,” Frayer said. “He’s going for the unknown. He’s excited. There’s never been a guy that’s taken an Olympic redshirt that’s made an Olympic team so this is once again, waters that haven’t been tested.”
After making history at Virginia Tech, Lewis begins a long road in pursuit of the sport’s ultimate prize. The U.S. Olympic Team trials will take place on April 4-5, 2020 at State College, Pa. And the first chance for Lewis to qualify for the trials will be on Nov. 15-16 in New York City.