November 10, 2011
It isn’t hard for Steven Takahashi to find someone to look up to. His role model is his father, Ray Takahashi, a former Olympic wrestler.
“That’s why I’m in wrestling, really, following my dad’s footsteps. He’s really my inspiration. He’s been my coach, my mentor all this time,” Takahashi says.
At 19, the second-year Western kinesiology student is the captain of the Mustang’s varsity wrestling team, coached by his father. But dad’s tutelage doesn’t end in the gym.
Wrestling is a conversation carried on at home, even at the dinner table. And after dinner, a wrestling match may break out between the two Takahashi men. But just for practice.
“If you talk to my wife, sometimes we’re wrestling in the kitchen,” Ray Takahashi says. “It’s like talking shop at home. But it’s okay. I think it’s one of the reasons he’s developed.”
And what an aspiring wrestler to talk shop with. Ray Takahashi competed for Canada in two Olympics, once placing fourth, and was inducted into the Canadian Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1991. His shadow may be large, but his son is quickly growing out of it.
In the 2010-11 season, Takahashi won both the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) wrestling championship for the 54 kg division, claiming the CIS wrestling rookie of the year and OUA’s wrestling MVP.
In December, he will compete at the Canadian Olympic team trials in Winnipeg for the right to represent Canada in May at two international qualifiers for the London Olympics — his dream. “To make an Olympic team is my ultimate goal as a wrestler,” Takahashi says.
Seeded second in the trials for the 55kg division, he isn’t favoured to win. He is, however, younger than the first-place seed, David Tremblay, and Ray Takahashi says he sees his son progressing every month. He hopes his son can do the things he did in his career.
While Takahashi wrestled during his junior school years, it was then only a casual past-time for him. Initially, he thought his athletic career was going to be in gymnastics, which he practiced for 16 hours each week. But he eventually became unsure of his future in the sport.
“In Grade 9, I was just finishing up my gymnastics career. I was at a point where I couldn’t get to that next level. I was still at a pretty high level in gymnastics. But I started wrestling on the high school team and I just fell in love with it like that,” he says.
In his first year of high school wrestling, he won the bronze medal at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations championship. The next year, he won the gold, a feat he repeated in Grade 11 and 12.
But despite leaving gymnastics, Takahashi says the sport prepared him for wrestling. And that makes him even more like his father. Ray Takahashi also never got into wrestling until Grade 9. As a youngster he trained in judo at his father’s Ottawa dojo, a school of martial arts.
When Ray Takahashi started wrestling, he already had the fundamentals, and by 17 he was wrestling in the Montreal Olympics.
Nearly 36 years after his father’s first Olympics, Takahashi has a competitive chance at competing in his own. But for now, he is focused on wrestling for the Mustangs and, in particular, fulfilling his role as captain.
And that, says Ben Spitzke, a 29-year-old teammate, is what makes him better than a great wrestler.
“He’s over there helping someone with a lot less experience than he has. He’s a selfless person,” Spitzke says.
With a good Mustang wrestling squad to lead, Takahashi is determined to help them wrestle their way to first place at the CIS championships in the spring, he says.
“Most importantly, this year, I feel it’s not my own title for the OUA and CIS but the team title. That’s my goal for the varsity wrestling team.”