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Christenson a fan of wrestling trials

Pat Christenson has become a fan of rodeo and racing as president of Las Vegas Events, but he has a special interest in this weekend’s U.S. Olympic Wrestling and Judo Team Trials at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Christenson has never ridden a bull or competed in a race car, but he knows a lot about freestyle wrestling.

He won an NCAA individual title in 1976 while a senior at Wisconsin and participated in the U.S. Olympic Trials that year.

“I’ll definitely have a greater understanding and appreciation for what these athletes are going through,” Christenson said of the competition that begins Friday.

“There is nothing I understand or appreciate more than amateur wrestling. It’s what I grew up doing.”

The three-day trials will determine U.S. team members for the Beijing Olympics in freestyle wrestling and judo for men and women and in men’s Greco-Roman wrestling.

Competition will be held in judo Friday and Saturday, with wrestling contested through Sunday. Each day includes 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-7:30 p.m. sessions, with some Olympic team members determined each night.

“From an amateur perspective, there is no higher honor than to compete for your country at the Olympics, other than going there and winning a medal,” Christenson said.

Christenson, a UNLV assistant wrestling coach from 1980 to 1983, finished with a 2-3 record in the 1976 trials.

“The guys who beat me deserved to go to the Olympics, and my focus always had been on winning an NCAA championship,” said Christenson, who competed at 167 pounds and earned four letters with the Badgers.

Christenson considered training for the 1980 Moscow Olympics but instead began working after college.

It turned out to be a wise choice, as then-President Carter decided the United States would boycott the Moscow Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

In 1980, Christenson was hired as event coordinator for the UNLV athletic department.

Christenson’s background afforded close ties to USA Wrestling, the sport’s American governing body. He began discussions about Las Vegas hosting the trials about 12 years ago, and serious talks followed four years ago.

Las Vegas Events, which operates under a grant from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, is the trials promoter and relies on revenue from ticket sales and sponsorship revenue to offset the event’s budget.

But, Christenson notes, the trials are being held in June, when hotel occupancy can use a boost. Event officials, coaches and supporters for about 400 athletes will provide that.

“It’s another strong, neutral-site special event,” he said.

“The most important aspect of any of our events, whether it’s off-road racing, rodeo or NASCAR, is the fan experience part of it. That comes first.”

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247.

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