SOUTHERN OCEAN TIMES: Manahawkin Wrestler Heads To Olympics
By Chris Christopher
One of the world’s shortest athletes at 5-foot-5, Frank Molinaro will compete on his sport’s biggest stage this summer.
The former Southern Regional High School standout will wrestle at 65kg for Team USA at the Olympics in Barra da Tijuca, Brazil on August 21.
“It feels really good to be an Olympian–like a dream come true,” Molinaro said. “Being an Olympian wants me to do more as well. I have become an Olympian because of a mix of consistency, discipline and focus along with my faith in God.
Molinaro, who starred at Penn State University, is a Christian.
“My faith plays a huge part in my success,” he said. “Everything happens for a reason and God has a plan for me. I had faith that I could do it. My faith helped me reach my full potential. My faith freed me up to take more risks and make more gains by trusting in God. I have a real strong faith. Everything happens for a reason–good or bad. My faith has enabled me to excel enough to get to this point.”
To win the gold medal, Molinaro must come out on top in several matches. He said he may have to win as many as four. There are 15-20 minutes of rest between each match. Barring a pin, each match consists of two three-minute periods with a 30-second break between each period.
“Before you know it, you are back out there,” Molinaro said. “I try to make my training similar to the competition. I have a plan to cool down and get something in my stomach between the matches. The biggest thing is to focus as the time between matches is limited.”
Molinaro said he will learn the identity of his first-round opponent when he weighs in at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 20 at the Olympic Training Center.
“The selection process is random,” he said. “I feel my chances for a gold medal are as good as anyone else’s. I have gone against some of the best and have beaten some of the best. I really believe I can beat anyone in the world. It’s a matter of staying on the same path, being consistent and putting myself in the best position to win Aug. 21. The rest of the things will take care of themselves.”
Molinaro, 27, was a Rutgers University assistant coach from 2012-14 under former Jackson Memorial mentor Scott Goodale. Molinaro became a Penn State assistant coach in 2015.
“After I coached at Rutgers, I felt I had a little bit left,” Molinaro said. “When wrestling was reinstated as an Olympic sport, it became a wake up call for me. I felt I had a place in my heart to go for it. I felt passionate about it and trusted in myself that I was doing the right thing. I felt I had a lot left and took the risk. My wife, Kera, an assistant gymnastics coach at Penn State, supported me.”
So has the community.
The Manahawkin Moose Lodge was the scene of a $50 per person Pig Roast on Saturday, June 25. Sponsored by the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club and Nike, Molinaro figures about a dozen family members will make the trip to Brazil to watch him compete. Molinaro will receive a stipend to go muscle to muscle against the world’s top wrestlers.
“Competing takes a lot of time, discipline and focus,” he said. “I give up a lot of time with my family to travel around the word to compete (Molinaro has hit the mat in more than a dozen nations) and attend training camps, but this is what I love to do. The hardest part is being away from my family.”
Molinaro’s route to Team USA was not easy.
He became an Olympian after two Europeans–one from Poland and one from the Ukraine–were banned from the Games for blood doping violations. Molinaro, who competes in freestyle, won his weight class at the U.S. Olympic Trials, ambushing opponents as the ninth seed. However, because of past results, the United States hadn’t qualified the weight in the Olympics. He had to finish in the top three in either a qualifier in Mongolia or top two in a qualifier in Turkey to earn a berth on Team USA. He went 1-1 in Mongolia and lost in the quarterfinals of the Turkey qualifier.
He earned a bronze medal in Turkey.The bronze appeared to deny Molinaro a berth, but the adjustments landed him in the Olympics.
Bulgaria’s Boris Novachkov, who bested Molinaro at the Turkey qualifier and won gold, received his license as a result of the first qualifier in Mongolia after the adjustment. Georgia’s Zurabi Iakobishvil was awarded one of the automatic berths after the ban. Therefore, Novachkov received his bid through the first qualifier and Molinaro through the second. It meant Novachkov’s spot from Turkey went to the third-place qualifier in Turkey–Molinaro.
The former Rams star sparkled at the Trials in Iowa City, Iowa. He was 3-0 in the challenge bracket. He downed Kellen Russell 14-1 in the first round and ousted the top-seeded Brent Metcalf 3-3 on criteria in the second round. Molinaro followed with a 5-5 criteria win over Logan Stieber in the semifinals, setting up a best-of-three championship series with Aaron Pico.
Molinaro lost the first bout 4-2 and won the second 4-3. Using a four-point move, Molinaro downed Pico 4-4 on criteria in the championship bout.
Molinaro captured international gold at 65kg at the 2016 Freestyle World Cup in Los Angeles. He topped India’s Rajnesh Rajneesh 5-0 in his first match. Molinaro followed with a victory over Magomed Muslimov of Azerbaijan in the second round. Molinaro downed 2015 World bronze medalist Sayed Mohammadi of Iran 4-3. Mohammadi entered the match ranked seventh in the world at 65kg. Molinaro concluded the tournament with a 4-4 win on criteria over Georgia’s Zurab Iakobishvilli, rated ninth in the world.
Molinaro was a four-time All-American for the Nittany Lions and a three-time state champion at Southern at 125 and 140. He went 33-0 as a Penn State senior, capturing the 149-pound NCAA title. He left Penn State as its fifth-four time All-American, finishing with a 121-29 career record.
Molinaro said competing in freestyle differs from the collegiate wars.
“Going from collegiate to freestyle wrestling was like learning another sport,” he said. “There are different tactics, different rules, different strategies, different conditions and different scoring. I had to escape my comfort zone to get to where I am today. International wrestlers use a different style and I had to acclimate to it. They use a more tactical style. They use more counter attacks.”
Molinaro is not afraid to attempt to take control of a bout at the outset.
“I would probably say I am a fighter,” said Molinaro, who earned a criminal justice degree from in 2012 from Penn State where he minored in kinesiology. “I am also a very disciplined wrestler who does not come out of position. I stay with my game plan. I don’t get too emotional out there. I would say my strong points are my mental toughness and my will to win. I never count myself out of a match.”
As a youngster, Molinaro also competed in football, baseball and cross country before opting to focus on wrestling.
“I liked the competitiveness of wrestling,” he said. “It’s a really tough sport that demands a lot mentally and physically–more than any other sport I have ever played. I like the culture of the sport and the lessons it teaches–the one on one aspect and the team aspect.”
Molinaro said he is analytical in defeat.
“A lot of my success comes from learning a lot in my losses and not being discouraged,” he said. “I use a loss as an opportunity to improve. I have always had the attitude of constant improvement. I take time from the initial blow of a loss to cool off. Losing is difficult, but I have always tried to work on my weaknesses and evolve my game so that it does not happen again. I try to find a positive in each loss
“I love competing. I love the feeling of vulnerability. The uncertainty of it all is very exhilarating.”