LONDON - Competing at her second-straight Olympic Games on Thursday in London, New Ulm native Ali Bernard lost her first-round match in the women's 72 kg freestyle wrestling competition, ending her campaign after just one match.
Bernard drew Sweden's Jenny Fransson in the first round, losing by a 3-0, 3-1 score.
After losing Period 1, Bernard seemed to be in control of the second period and in line to force a deciding third period, but Fransson rallied for victory in Period 2 to advance to the second round.
Ali Bernard of New Ulm competes for the United States against Jenny Fransson of Sweden (in blue) during the 72-kg women’s freestyle wrestling competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics Thursday in London. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Because the freestyle wrestling category in the Olympics is wrestled in a best-of-three format with three periods of two minutes each in length, after Fransson clinched the first two periods a third period wasn't necessary.
Fransson's winning points in the second period came in the final seconds of the round.
"I should have put a little bit more heart into it, I thought I had that round," Bernard said after her match in an interview with TheMat.tv. "You've just got to put that extra minute in, those extra seconds, and you know, I just didn't do it."
After earning a fifth-place finish at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Bernard was understandably disappointed by her first-round exit this time around.
"It just sucked, I guess - it was just bad," Bernard said to TheMat.tv. "I just didn't come out ready and ended poorly. I don't really know what else to say, it was not a good situation."
Fransson was defeated in the second round by eventual silver medalist Stanka Zlateva Hristova of Bulgaria by a 1-0, 1-0 score. As a result of losing to one of the two finalists, Fransson entered the repechage bracket to compete for one of two bronze medals at stake, but she lost her first repechage match 2-0, 0-1, 2-0 to Vasilisa Marzalyuk of Belarus.
Russia's Natalia Vorobieva defeated Hristova via fall in the final to take the gold medal, and Spain's Maider Unda and Kazakhstan's Guzei Manyurova took the bronze medals.
After initially falling short of qualifying for the London Olympics at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials back in April, Bernard's inclusion on Team USA came after original 72 kg qualifier Stephany Lee was disqualified after failing a drug test.
Bernard said after her match that she was happy for the chance to experience the Olympics as a competitor once again after making her first Olympic appearance in Beijing.
"It was a good experience, I guess," Bernard told TheMat.tv. "It was good to be with the girls, good to be training. I was honored to be part of the team. I wish I could have done a little bit better, but it is what it is."
Bernard will decide at a later point what her wrestling future will be. Before the Olympics she was considering her options to go into coaching at the high school level.
Back in New Ulm
Although Bernard's entire family attended her match at the ExCeL Center in London, she also received strong support in New Ulm.
A group of about 40 supporters gathered in New Ulm at the home of Ray Runck to watch Bernard's match, which began 7 a.m. Included in the group were Ali's grandmothers, along with friends, teammates and others who were involved with Ali's wrestling career at New Ulm High School. Many of her fans wore "Ali Cats" T-shirts to show their support.
Larry Hildebrandt, manager of Comcast Cable, New Ulm, set up a big screen for the viewing party in Runck's garage.
"When she came on the mat, it was pretty exciting; everybody was cheering and rooting for her," said Jeff Hoffmann, Bernard's coach in junior high, about the atmosphere at the viewing party. "After she lost that first period it was kind of down and out, but when she scored and went ahead in the second period everybody was upbeat. It was kind of heartbreaking there at the end when she lost in that last second there."
For people such as Hoffmann who knew Bernard from the very beginnings of her career, watching her compete on the world stage brought feelings of great pride.
"It's awesome just to see her," Hoffmann said. "I coached her in junior high, and she was a great wrestler, and it was fun watching her then. But now just seeing her on TV like this, it makes me very proud. It's quite an experience for her, and it's made a lot of people in New Ulm proud of her."
A group of 10-15 supporters stayed and watched the action all the way through to the gold medal match, which took place early Thursday afternoon.
The viewing party included a lot of the same people who gathered to watch Bernard compete in 2008 in Beijing. That event as held at the house of Bill Koob. who stayed at Thursday's viewing party all the way through the gold medal match.
"It was just a good time for New Ulm wrestling fans to get together and enjoy watching Ali wrestle," Koob said. "Everyone is just very proud of her and happy for her career. We're just all so proud of her."
In addition to Bernard's immediate family, New Ulmites Cathy Koob, Kathy Runck and Annette Haynes travelled to London to watch Bernard wrestle. The same three also made the trip to Beijing.
It is undetermined whether there will be a big reception for Bernard upon her return to New Ulm.