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Former Bison wrestler Zillmer determined to climb the USA ladder

Hayden Zillmer

FARGO—Hayden Zillmer is addicted, but he doesn't need help. At least not until after the 2020 Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

That's the goal for the former North Dakota State wrestler, who if not working out twice a day feels like he's missing something. Asked how he gets away from the sport, he says that's not in his vocabulary.

"I can't," he said. "I feel like if you get away from it a little bit it mentally wears on you. It's always on your mind and I guess I'm looking at the big picture and the ultimate goal in the sport."

That would be to win a spot on the United States freestyle team in 2020 at 98 kilograms. That translates to 216 pounds—and yes this is the same kid who wrestled as a lightweight in junior high and most of high school at Crosby-Ironton (Minn.).

He was a 149-pounder his freshman year at NDSU.

"It's crazy, I was a small guy growing up," Zillmer said. "A lot of guys I'm wrestling now were never that small. They were all bigger guys."

Zillmer finished his Bison career after the 2016 NCAA Division I Championships and hasn't slowed down since. Up until recently, he was the only USA wrestler who was on both the senior freestyle and Greco-Roman teams and the workouts with his Minnesota Storm team would consist of freestyle in the morning and Greco in the afternoon.

He finally had to decide since the Final X Series that determines members of the World Team were held on the same weekend. It was probably just as well anyway since his Greco weight class was 202 pounds, definitively lighter than his freestyle weight.

"I wanted to wrestle both styles and make both World teams," Zillmer said.

His bid for the World team in Greco came up short last weekend when he dropped a best 2-of-3 match to J'den Cox from Columbia, Mo. Cox won the first match 5-2 and put a sour taste in Zillmer's mouth with a 10-0 technical fall victory in the second.

Zillmer felt like getting right back to practice.

"The prep leading up to last week was really good, I had a good feeling about the tournament," he said. "I thought I would do well. It definitely didn't turn out like I wanted it to, but overall I know what I need to do now to improve and get that spot. It was a step in the right direction."

He took a few days off this week for the first time in five months.

"But it's hard to take time off after losing matches," Zillmer said. "The motivation is through the roof. I can't wait to get back in the room, get back to work and get the job done next year. I feel like I'm constantly improving and that's good."

Zillmer will be 26 years old in a month. There is no time frame for career longevity, most likely seeing how 2020 pans out and taking it from there.

He trains in the Twin Cities but will be heading to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., for a camp July 15-21. It will be his fourth trip this year to the national training facility.

"The national team coaches do a great job with organizing and getting guys ready to go," Zillmer said.

With Zillmer, there's probably not much needed to get him ready to go.

Jeff Kolpack

Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.

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