BROOKSVILLE — Charley Combs went into the U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying tournament on March 31 through April 1 at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, knowing he was a long-shot and determined not to let the results dictate his future in wrestling.
In his first time in competition in five years, the 25-year-old showed some rust, but he also learned some things about himself and the way he needs to be dedicated to training going forward.
And, he decided, he will keep training.
"I knew I was going to come out of (this tournament) having my questions answered and being able to walk away, or I was going to have my curiosity piqued," Combs said. "I left a little more curious and definitely know I want to get back on the mat again."
Competing in the 74-kilogram (163 pounds) weight class in the Greco-Roman bracket, he was awarded a first-round bye.
Combs was then involved in a gritty second-round bout with Joey Kubica from Dubuque, Iowa. He lost 2-0 in the first period to Kubica after being flipped for the lone two-point score.
The close first-period score gave him confidence that resulted in a 1-1 second-period tie, but it meant Kubica got the victory.
Although Combs fell in that first match, it showed that he had the ability to match up with some of the best grapplers in the country, even after his extended layoff.
"In the first match, I was a little tentative," he said, "but I'd say that once I got that first round out of the way, I felt a lot better out there."
His second match, this time in the consolation bracket, came out in a similar way. He struggled in the first period, tied in the second, and ended up with a hard-fought loss.
Both of Comb's matches can be seen on YouTube by searching for "Charley Combs."
A former state medalist for Hernando High and captain of the wrestling team at King College in Tennessee, Combs has been saddled with injuries for much of his career. This tournament showed that when he is healthy and focused, he said, he can still wrestle with some of the best in the country.
"I wanted to be able to weigh in and compete to be relevant," he said. "I felt like I accomplished those things."