Clarissa Chun Named Inaugural Coach of Iowa Women’s Wrestling

Belatedly getting to this news, but let’s get to it: Iowa women’s wrestling, the first major conference program in the nation, now has its first official head coach. Welcome to Iowa City, Clarissa Chun.

Chun’s appointment is not too surprising — she was one of the first names mentioned when Iowa announced its decision to start a women’s wrestling program. Chun brings a seriously impressive resume to the job, both as a competitor and a coach. She made the U.S. Olympic team in both 2008 and 2012, winning a bronze medal in 2012. She also won four U.S. Open tournaments and competed on five world teams for the U.S., highlighted by winning a world championship in 2008. She got a taste of Iowa City during that 2012 Olympic run when she competed at the Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City, an experience which left a definite positive impression on her, as Cody Goodwin noted for The Des Moines Register

On Friday, Chun raved about her experiences with the Iowa wrestling community. She was here for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, when she beat Alyssa Lampe in a thrilling three-match series in front of a record-shattering crowd at Carver. She went on to win bronze in London that summer, but the passionate wrestling fans left an impression.

“The next day, I had breakfast, and I couldn’t even tell you the name of the breakfast joint,” Chun recalled, “but a nice guy came up and congratulated me. He was very knowledgeable about wrestling and talked to me about my match and whatnot.

“He ended up buying my breakfast without me knowing. I didn’t find out until I went to pay. That just doesn’t happen anywhere else that I’ve been. There’s no better place than here to get it going.”

After competition, Chun got into coaching, where she’s also excelled. She’s been an assistant coach for the U.S. women’s freestyle national team since 2017, helping U.S. athletes win 17 medals since then (including seven at the recent World Championships). In the four years prior to her hire, the U.S. won 10 world medals. The difference at the Olympic level is even more stark; the U.S. won five total medals between 2004 and 2012 — they claimed four medals at this past summer’s Tokyo Olympics. She certainly knows a thing or two about developing and improving talent. She’ll have to master recruiting, but that would be true for nearly anyone else that Iowa could have hired as well. 

Chun becoming the first women’s wrestling coach at Iowa only further enhances her already strong legacy as a trailblazer. She was the first girls’ wrestling state champion in Hawaii in 1998 (when the sport was first offered there). She wrestled collegiately at Missouri Valley, which was the first college to offer women’s wrestling as a varsity scholarship sport. She’s very accustomed to being the first to do something — now she’s going to be the first women’s wrestling head coach at Iowa and the first women’s wrestling head coach of a major conference program, period. 

The hire got the Tom Brands seal of approval as well: 

“Clarissa Chun has charisma. She has credentials. She has championships,” Brands said. “She commands respect and the wrestlers that come to school here are going to love her.

“Gary Barta and Barbara Burke said from the beginning that they would target the best person for the job and that’s exactly what they did. This is a big deal for the University of Iowa.”

Chun was one of the top options for the job, a thoroughly qualified candidate with the competitive and coaching accomplishments to more than back up the hype. This decision seems like both a no-brainer and an absolute home run for Iowa. Well done, Iowa athletic department. And welcome to Iowa City, Clarissa. We can’t wait to see what you do in black and gold.