How MSU’s Peyton Omania reached the Greco-Roman World Championships

Peyton Omania’s biggest win of the season could have been a loss.

That’s what he thinks about now that he’s achieved a childhood dream.

The redshirted sophomore wrestler from Michigan State is heading to the Greco-Roman World Championships as a member of Team USA, thanks to a weekend in which he beat two former Olympians to to qualify.

It’s been his dream since he was 5 years old, wrestling in Concord, California.

“All I wanted was to wrestle on the world stage,” he said.

But he felt out of sight just four months ago. Omania was in a rut, having lost twice at the Big Ten Championships, twice at the NCAA Championships and twice at the Olympic Trials. He finished in the top eight at the Olympic trials but in a long-distance sport, seeing American wrestlers travel to Tokyo this summer without him lighting a match indoors.

It did not lead to anger, madness or doubt. It became something much happier.

Going to the door of one dream helped him locate the key to another. Omania started looking back at everything, wins and losses, that brought this 5-year-old kid from California to this moment of indecision.

Why did he feel so much more in control?

“I was just sick of doubting myself,” Omania said. “I felt like I was fighting not to lose rather than winning.”

It wasn’t like that before. That’s not what brought him here. Michigan State coaches first saw him as a junior in high school when he wrestled current Spartan junior Jaden Enriquez. They were surprised by his energy and presence, how he competed with the upper classes as if they were mortals.

“Before in high school, I convinced myself that I could run through a brick wall,” Omania said. “I could do anything. I was unstoppable.”

The increased competition changed something along the way. He became engrossed in opponents with better stats or bigger names, and they started getting the better of him.

In order to change the outcome, he had to change all the habits along the way. He wanted to show up to every practice buzzing with positivity. He must have taken the losses as one more lesson in how to become a champion.

Soon, Michigan State coaches saw a glimmer of the kid they had recruited out of high school.

“You can identify it pretty quickly, even as an average spectator, when someone comes out on the mat and really enjoys their time and enjoys their moment,” the State coach said. Michigan, Roger Chandler. “It’s Peyton. The lights come on and Peyton shows up.”

So last weekend went the way it did, with the greatest wrestling performance of Omania’s lifetime. Competing in Lincoln, Nebraska, he drew No. 2 seed and 2016 Olympian Jess Thielke in the semifinals, and Omania won 9-0 on a technical fall.

In the final, he faced 2020 Olympian and No. 1 seed Alejandro Sancho and swept a best-of-three series. Now he will compete next month as one of 22 Americans in Oslo, Norway.

He feels limitless again, ready to run through a brick wall, because opponents don’t matter this time. What former Indiana wrestler Luke Sheridan told him just before the match against Thielke.

“He gave me some really good advice: Just pretend it’s a shadow. Just fight the shadow,” Omania said.

He battled against the shadow and won.

Contact Nate Atkins at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @NateAtkins_.

Robert J. King