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Karaoke, a food truck and 'The Walking Dead': Meet America's giddiest gold medalist

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TOKYO — Tamyra Mensah-Stock might have been the happiest person at the Olympics even before she stepped onto a wrestling mat here Tuesday night.

She had, after all, packed a karaoke machine, which, during a pre-Games training camp, she used every single day.

But also because, as she said last month: “I definitely find pleasure in getting beat up and beating up people.”

She did much more of the latter here in Tokyo, and so, throughout her stay, she was a 5-foot-5, 150-pound, muscular bundle of joy. Every sentence she uttered seemed to end with a laugh or an exclamation. “I’m here, to enjoy, the journey,” she said after a semifinal triumph, and you better believe she was enjoying it.

USA's Tamyra Mensah-Stock celebrates her gold medal victory against Nigeria's Blessing Oborududu in their women's freestyle 68kg wrestling final match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Makuhari Messe in Tokyo on August 3, 2021. (Photo by Jack GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)
USA's Tamyra Mensah-Stock celebrates her gold medal victory against Nigeria's Blessing Oborududu in their women's freestyle 68kg wrestling final match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Makuhari Messe in Tokyo on August 3, 2021. (Photo by Jack GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Then, on Tuesday, she beat Nigeria’s Blessing Oborududu, and became the second American woman to win Olympic wrestling gold, and joy multiplied. Mensah-Stock bounded up and down in glee, breathing heavy, an American flag draped around her shoulders, an incorruptible smile spread across her face.

“Yeeeeaaaah!” she said.

She cried, too. “But crying from joy,” she said as she broke down.

She had, admittedly, been nervous. “Jittery.” Staying calm, she said, “was dang near extremely impossible” as she advanced through the 68-kilogram weight class at her first Olympics. She told her coaches, repeatedly: “I’m nervous. I’m scared. I’m nervous. I’m freakin’ out here. Help me. I’m freaking out.”

To calm herself, she’d watched two episodes of "The Walking Dead" on Tuesday morning, after a rough night of non-existent sleep.

She brought a smile and an iconic heart-shaped hand gesture to the mat that night, and knew when to get serious. Then, when the medal had been won, it was once again time for fun. She was asked what she’d do with the money that comes attached to gold medals.

“I wanted to give my mom $30,000 so she can get a food truck, ‘cause it’s her dream,” she said. “And I told her five years ago, ‘Alright mommy, I’ll get you your food truck, but you gotta be responsible.

“So my mom’s gettin’ her food truck!” she trilled, dancing side to side in her news conference chair. “She’s gonna have her little cooking business. She can cook really, really, really well. Barbecue!”

Which, she then said, “I don’t eat it ‘cause I’m a pescatarian now.” She snorted with laughter.

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Her life has not always been full of it. Born in Chicago to a Ghanaian father and a mother who “had to fight,” the family moved to Texas before she turned 1. When she was in high school, her father died in a car accident on the way home from one of her wrestling meets. For a time, she blamed the sport, and struggled to carry on. When she married, she kept her dad’s last name, Mensah, as part of hers to honor him.

She went to tiny Wayland Baptist University, and, no, her ascent in wrestling wasn’t rapid. She won her weight class at the 2016 Olympic trials, but didn’t qualify, and instead went to Rio as a training partner. At age 25, in 2018, she made her first world championship medal round. She won bronze, then a year later gold, and then a year later took aim at the Olympics.

When she qualified this time around after the pandemic-enforced delay, and a reporter told her she was going to Tokyo, she brought her palms to her cheeks.

“Oh, man,” she said through overwhelming emotions. She’d sought out her family immediately after her final win. “They mean a lot,” she said.

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And then, here in Tokyo, she combined laughter and giddiness with passion and fight like only she can. She focused on the mat. Then she exploded off it, singing, bounding, giggling, the happiest of Olympians.

Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 12 slideshow embed
Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 12 slideshow embed

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