Former Bison wrestler Zillmer has eyes on 2020 Tokyo Games

Former North Dakota State wrestler Hayden Zillmer, right, battles Kollin Moore in the title match at 97 KG at Senior Nationals recently in Fort Worth, Texas. NDSU photo
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FARGO - Wrestling at the senior level has taken Hayden Zillmer to 14 different countries, although he’ll be the first to you tell you they are mainly business trips. At 27 years old, the former North Dakota State standout is still at it and if all goes well, he’ll still have more travel in 2020.

That would be Tokyo, Japan, for the 2020 Olympic Games.

Zillmer qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in April at Penn State after winning his freestyle weight class at USA Wrestling Senior Nationals held Dec. 20-22. He competes at 97 kg (214 pounds) and pretty much everybody who will be at the Olympic Trials was at Senior Nationals in Fort Worth, Texas.

So, you never know. Zillmer is aiming to become the first former NDSU wrestler to make the Olympic team since John Morgan competed in the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea. Brad Rheingans, in 1976, is the only other former Bison to make an Olympic team.

“I think I’m sitting in a good spot,” Zillmer said. “I need to improve on a few things and I have a few months to figure it out.”


Zillmer is training in the Twin Cities with the University of Minnesota’s Gopher WC RTC. It’s been a good experience, mainly because he’s able to train full-time with competitive practice partners. Plus it’s funded by the U of M.

“They make it so I can train and I don’t have to worry financially,” Zillmer said. “It’s less stress and I’m able to focus on training (Gopher wrestlers) and do some mentoring, too. There are nine of us in the program and they have like nine additional coaches to their coaches.”

Zillmer leaves Jan. 12 for a tournament in Rome, Italy, which will be country No. 15 on his competitive list. Does he take in the scenery?

Hard to say.

“I try to, I really try to,” he said. “A lot of people want to hear about a lot of the areas I go to. I show them pictures and tell stories. I feel like I take it in more when I get back and tell people about it.”

He was in Dagestan, Russia, almost two months ago. Once back in the U.S. the victory at Seniors Nationals represented another step forward.

The title match against Kollin Moore of Ohio RTC was suspenseful with Moore taking a 10-2 lead. Zillmer responded with a four-point takedown. He tied it at 10-10 late in the match with a takedown and gut wrench.

Zillmer won by criteria.


He’s come a long way since winning a Minnesota Class A state title at 103 pounds as a sophomore in 2009 at Crosby-Ironton High School, located just northeast of Brainerd, Minn. His Olympic weight class is about double that weight. He’s also 6-foot-3.

Most importantly, his body is cooperating with the intense training regimen.

“I feel like I’m 20,” Zillmer said. “I think I’m still developing a little bit, too, maybe technically and finding out what’s going to work for me best in certains areas. Just from last year, I feel like I’ve improved a lot. Physically and mentally, I’m still growing and I feel like there’s room to grow. I know I’ve made mistakes and I feel I can still do a better job at a lot of those things. It will help me improve as a wrestler.”

His last year at NDSU was 2016 and it was immediately on to training for the next level. In essence, his 2020 Olympic quest started then.

“I hope that can happen and that I can represent NDSU well,” Zillmer said.

Related Topics: WRESTLING
Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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