HENRY CEJUDO'S family and friends hugged, hollered and bounced in the stands so high that ushers came over repeatedly to ask them to calm down or face ejection. They listened but ignored the warning. They couldn't help themselves. The 5'4", 121-pound Cejudo, whom they call Shorty, had just defeated Japan's Tomohiro Matsunaga in the 55-kilogram final to become, at age 21, the U.S.'s youngest Olympic wrestling champion in history.
This is an article from the Sept. 1, 2008 issue
A prodigy who won the 2006 national freestyle title while still in high school, Cejudo was far less experienced than his opponents in Beijing. But he stormed through the competition with a combination of aggressiveness and a rubber-man ability to escape holds. "He has tremendous [flexibility in his] hips," says his coach, 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Terry Brands.
He also succeeded because of Team Cejudo. "It takes a village to raise a warrior!" crowed family friend Eric Albarracin, one of the 11 members of Cejudo's close-knit clan who came to Beijing from Arizona and Colorado. Born to undocumented Mexican immigrants, Cejudo and six siblings were raised in poverty in Los Angeles and Phoenix by their single mother, Nelly Rico. Henry and his older brother Angel excelled at wrestling. In high school Angel was undefeated in 150 matches, and Henry also won four state titles. Rather than attend college, the brothers moved to Colorado Springs, where for the last four years they have trained at the U.S. Olympic training center. (Despite initial success, Angel is now divided between his wrestling career and raising a daughter with his girlfriend, Angela.) "I never play the victim," says Henry of his upbringing. "My family's always been there for me. I never missed anything."