Tonya Verbeek won a bronze medal in BeijingOnce, while she was attending a Hamilton Tiger-Cats game, Tonya Verbeek let the Olympic silver medal she won at the 2004 Athens Games be passed through the crowd at Ivor Wynne Stadium while the wrestler was being honoured on the field.
That explains a lot about the 34-year-old who will compete in the 55-kilogram category at the London Olympic Games on Thursday. For Verbeek, the spoils of victory don't matter as much as the competition.
"The medals and all the trophies, they obviously represent and show where I've been and how I've done (but) you've got it all in here, in your heart,'' Verbeek told the Toronto Star. "That's the most important thing for me.''
The native of Thorold, Ont., didn't even think she would be wrestling in London. Verbeek believed she would retire after winning a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
She took time off in 2010 to recover from a back injury and recharge mentally. Verbeek showed she still has the skill to be a contender by winning a silver medal at the 2011 world championships.
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"That break gave me a breath of fresh air to be able to keep going,'' she told The Canadian Press. "I seriously have been breaking it down competition to competition.
"I'm not a quitter. I do not like to give in.''
Verbeek's name often isn't mentioned when listing potential medal winners in London. Women's coach Leigh Vierling said overlook Verbeek at your peril.
"People say you're old, let them say that,'' he said. "At the end of the day, when we line up and all those girls step on the scale to compete, I'm just excited that we have this one on our team.''
Carol Huynh, a wrestling gold medallist in Beijing and a bronze medallist here, calls Verbeek "an inspiration.''
"She's such an amazing wrestler and she's an amazing person," Huynh said. "She's so hard-working. She has such a great attitude and she has this competitive spirit that just keeps on going."
[Slideshow: Carol Huynh wins wrestling bronze]
One of Verbeek's main competition in London will be Japan's Saori Yoshida who has dominated the 55-kilogram class since women's wresting was introduced to the Games in 2004. Another formidable opponent will be Sweden's Sofia Mattsson a silver medallist in the 59-kilogram class at last year's world championships.
As she's got older Verbeek has changed her training methods. She's added pilates and hot yoga to help prevent injury.
"I don't necessarily train harder at this point in my career,'' she said. "I train smarter. I listen to my body.''
Verbeek has said London will be her last Olympics but she wants to remain in the sport.
"The sport is always going to be part of my life,'' she said. "When I finish I know I will be coaching and mentoring and travelling, hopefully even with national team members.
"I'll hopefully be able to give back because it's just done so much in my life.''
A victory in London would allow Verbeek to complete her collection of Olympic medals. Typically she is thinking about the process, not the result.
"I haven't said 'I'm going to the Olympic Games and I'm going to get the gold medal,'" she said. "I'm going to wrestle my best and be my best. I am very excited. I feel right where I need to be."
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