The 2020 Olympics are still two years away, but they’re closer than ever for Orillia native Olivia DiBacco.
The Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute (ODCVI) graduate narrowly missed a bronze medal at the World Wrestling Championship in Budapest, but proved she belongs on the sport’s international stage with its biggest stars.
“Only a year ago, I wasn’t sure I belonged on the world stage and I think I proved I belonged there in Hungary,” said the driven athlete.
DiBacco, who capped a stellar varsity career at Brock University by winning the 2017 Canadian Wrestling Championship, continues to insert herself into the Olympic conversation.
In 2016, she finished third at the Canadian Olympic Trials, narrowly missing a berth on our national wrestling team. At that point, she could have opted to give up on her dream. Instead, she went all in on representing Canada at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
She’s well on her way to doing just that. In Budapest, the 25-year-old excelled and made it to the bronze-medal match against U.S. rival Tamyra Mariama Mensah, where she lost a hard-fought decision to the American.
However, she bounced back in the repechage, defeating Kaur Navjot of India to end up fifth in a deep and talented international field.
“If you talk to wrestlers, many will tell you this is bigger than the Olympics,” DiBacco said of the world championships, which boasts a larger, deeper field of athletes.
She admits to some disappointment, however, in not winning a medal.
“To be so close and to fall short … it is a little disappointing," she told OrilliaMatters. "I keep thinking about things I could have done differently. But now that I’ve had a few days to think about it, finishing fifth is definitely something I didn’t think I was capable of a year ago.”
The sting of the loss in the bronze-medal match, coupled with the euphoria from shining on the world stage provides a double dose of motivation, she says.
“I see so many areas where I can improve and areas where I am nowhere close to achieving my potential,” said DiBacco. “I have improved a lot over the past year and I am hoping to improve a lot over this next year.”
After taking a much-deserved two-week break from wrestling and working out, DiBacco will then get back on the mat and resume her twice-daily, six-day-a-week workouts with the Brock Wrestling Club.
The next big competition on the horizon is the Canadian Championship in March. A good result there would put her in good stead for the Canadian Olympic Trials to be held in December of 2019.
“It would certainly be an advantage to win at Nationals … that would help my ranking for the Olympic Trials,” said DiBacco, who was Brock’s female athlete of the year in 2016 and won both OUA and CIS titles during her time at the St. Catharines university.
Amazingly, DiBacco was not the only Orillia wrestler at the world championships. Fellow ODCVI graduate Jade Parsons also realized a life-long dream to qualify for the global championship.
However, she lost her first match and because of the single-elimination format, that meant her tournament ended there.
“The wrestler she lost to was from China and she went on to win the bronze medal,” said DiBacco. “Jade was frustrated to lose. It’s a vicious sport. But I know she also enjoyed the experience of her first senior world championship.”
Enjoying the experience is part of the equation, said DiBacco, who is a registered massage therapist in St. Catharines.
“Before my bronze-medal match, my coach came to me and just told me to enjoy the moment,” she said. “You never know if you will ever get here again.”
Despite losing, she did savour the moment. “So few people ever get to experience this,” she said. “I am so thankful to be living this life."
She is also thankful to those who have supported her on the journey, which started at ODCVI and at the Mariposa Wrestling Club.
“It’s so cool to me to come from a small town and to go to this big stage of the world championship and to realize that we’re all able to do big things,” she said. “I’m so thankful and grateful for the coaches at OD and Mariposa that encouraged me and taught me and continue to support me. Wrestling has changed my life," said DiBacco. "It has opened so many doors.”
She said the sport can open doors for others as well, and encourages Orillians to get involved.
“Wrestling is one of those sports that rewards hard work. You don’t have to be the best athlete. Just come to the wrestling room and work hard,” she said. “And that can have a huge ripple effect on other parts of your life.”