LONDON (CBS) — The Flying Squirrel has finally been uncaged at the Olympics. Ellis Coleman of Oak Park took to the mat Monday in London as competition got underway in Greco-Roman Wrestling (60 kg/132 lb).
However, Coleman’s Olympic debut was short, as he lost to Ivo Angelov of Bulgaria, the 2011 world bronze medalist. Coleman would have remained in contention had Angelov reached the finals, but Angelov lost to Iran’s Omid Noroozi.
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“I’m focused right now and have been trying to fine-tune my conditioning and training so I can go out there and be ready,” Coleman told WBBM Newsradio before the event. “It looks good for me. I’m coming in and I might catch people off guard.” At 20, he is the youngest member of the U.S. Greco team. He had to win three straight matches to advance to the finals.
Coleman’s story is remarkable by any standard. He spent part of his childhood in Humboldt Park then moved to the West side. He grew up with a single mom and a biological father heavy into drugs and now in prison. He survived gunfire outside his grade school and an apartment fire that destroyed everything the family owned. Through it all, Coleman says his mother, Yolanda Barral, made life seem normal.
“My mom made everything seem like it was all good. Everything seemed like nothing was wrong when things were bad and so, if something’s bad, it’s not that bad for me. I’m an optimistic person thanks to my mom.”
Coleman does not consider his story to be unique, “All athletes have their struggles and have some adversity they had to undergo to get where they are now. I’m no different from any other athlete.”
Coleman shares the nickname “The Flying Squirrel” with fellow Team USA member and gymnast Gabby Douglas but Coleman invented it. It’s a wrestling move devised by Coleman during practices with his older brother. It’s named after the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon. First, Coleman snaps his opponent’s head down then tries to jump over him while simultaneously grabbing the opponent’s waist and pulling him down. Video of the move went viral on the internet and it became a fixture in ESPN’s Top 10 plays.
“I love the nickname, I love the hype and I love the fact that it got popular like that. But I want people to know more about me. I’m more than just The Flying Squirrel, I’m a big time athlete and I plan to win the gold medal. I want everybody to recognize me for that. If they only know me as The Flying Squirrel right now, when I leave London, they’ll know me otherwise,” he said. Coleman only uses The Flying Squirrel when he’s losing, so don’t expect the move to make an appearance in London.
About overcoming adversity and succeeding in sports and in life, Coleman offered this simple equation that guides him day to day.
“Always be optimistic, and no matter what happens, even when things seem like they’re the worst, give it your all, keep going and keep trying because in the end it might come out for the best. It always turns around if you keep pushing and you give it all you got.”
Coleman earned two third-place state finishes and a fifth-place state finish in his high school career. In 2009, he won the Junior National Championship and placed third at the Junior Worlds in 2010 and 2011. In May, Coleman beat Joe Betterman in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials to earn a trip to the Summer Games.
Coleman is confident about winning in London but also knows that he’s young enough to be a threat four years from now.
“If I make a mark now and put my name out there and bring home a medal, then it’s definitely going to be a mark for future Olympic Games,” he said. :I’m going to be a threat for years to come.”
You can follow Ellis Coleman on Twitter @DaFlyinSquirrel or become a fan on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ellis-Coleman-Flying-Squirrel/181376995260774