Porterville High School wrestling coach and Monache High School graduate Tim Vanni isn’t your ordinary high school coach. He is also an Olympic wrestler. Vanni represented the United States in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988, and Barcelona, Spain in 1992.
Vanni’s initial reaction to becoming an Olympian back in 1988 was a feeling of determination. That was something he said he needed to reach his ultimate goal.
“The trials process was long, then we had the pre-limb tournament, and then final trials in Pensacola, [Florida],” he said. “I was extremely determined. It was something I really wanted. I had the feeling that I had finally made it.”
In the 20-plus years since competing in the Olympics, the one thing Vanni carries with himself is a sense of family, and a sense of pride.
“I have that sense of family and history with being an Olympian. It’s a family-type feeling, and you have a sense that you belong, and you’re in a life-long fraternity with the other Olympians. The recognition that goes along with this achievement is peaceful and encouraging, and makes you continue to be at your best. It was very encouraging to leave that experience, and just contribute.”
When you become a two-time Olympian, there are some unforgettable memories of your experiences. Vanni says that the opening ceremonies and his first win, were moments that he won’t forget.
“There were numerous memories that I experienced at other events associated with the Olympics – walking into stadium in Seoul, and hearing the roar of the crowd,” he said. “The first victory over Spain is another one. At that point, I thought it was the pinnacle, but was disappointed with how I finished in ‘88. I was able to meet President Reagan, and that was one of those experiences that goes with the goals you set. I made friendships to last a lifetime though.”
Vanni talked about how getting back to the Olympics for a second time in ‘92 was no easy feat.
“Things were different getting back in ’92,” he said. “I lost my first match of qualifying, and I was so nervous for that match. I tried a different approach. I just wanted to be left alone. I won the next two matches to qualify.”
Vanni had many influences as he came up in wrestling. He looked at his peers and brothers as being the biggest influence in allowing him to get to the Olympics.
“There were numerous people. I have two brothers, Vince and Danny. Vince got us started in wrestling. Danny and I were closer in age though, so he had more of an influence on me,” Vanni said. “Also, my college coach at Cal-State Bakersfield had a big influence on me. Then there was Joe Gonzalez. I trained with him at Arizona State. We would go toe-to-toe, and we’d train to get ahead of everybody else. We still talk, and are still friends to this day. Dave Schultz also influenced me coming up. I had a style that blended with Schultz; calm and slow, and then Gonzalez, speeding things up.”
For someone to get to the point that Vanni was able to get to, they generally have to clear some kind of tough hurdle, or have to overcome some type of adversity. That was definitely something that Vanni had to deal prior to becoming an Olympian for the first time.
“It’s like coaching, there’s always something holding you back,” he said. “I hurt my knee in ’82, and doctors told me I was done, and shouldn’t try wrestling again. I was discouraged. I had my knee scoped, and had arthroscopic surgery. I came back six months later, and never looked back. There are a lot of different factors though. I remember a tournament in Russia and I didn’t win a single match in the three weeks I was there. I got pummeled, but I came back home, picked myself up and persevered.”
Being a high school wrestling coach, Vanni talked about whether or not he coaches differently, being that he was an Olympian, and if his wrestlers pay closer attention to his teachings because of his experiences.
“It’s yes and no,” he said. “A lot of teenage kids come out here for fun experiences and don’t realize the sacrifice it takes. I’ve had some good ones over the years, but I’d like to have an impact on their success. I want to be able to get you to the point where you’ll have success on and off the mat.”
Vanni is a part of an illustrious fraternity, and has had experiences that very few people can relate to. He shared some thoughts on what it takes to get to the point of being an Olympian, and some advice for people who aspire to that goal
“It really depends on where they’re at, how dedicated they are,” he said. “They will have to show sacrifice, perseverance, and they have to know there will be setbacks and adversity. People will try to block your path, but you have to try to put negative things aside and focus on the goal.”