Former Olympic medalist looks to pass torch to the youth at Lexington wrestling academy

Posted 7/3/24

Wrestlers of all ages from around Lexington County recently got the opportunity to learn from an Olympic medalist.

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Former Olympic medalist looks to pass torch to the youth at Lexington wrestling academy


Wrestlers of all ages from around Lexington County recently got the opportunity to learn from an Olympic medalist.

Jamill Kelly was a member of the USA wrestling team during the 2004 Olympics in Athens. He won a silver medal wrestling in the 66 Kg freestyle and is now looking to pass his knowledge on to the next generation.

“Anytime that you’re able to give back and help inspire the next generation, you always want to look at the opportunities that you can do that,” Kelly said. “If they have goals and aspirations of going to college, and potentially trying to make world and Olympic teams, then they can see it. They can see it and be able to talk to somebody that’s done it.”

Kelly, now a college coach at the University of North Carolina, spends part of his offseason time traveling to camps, teaching techniques and sharing his story. On June 29, he was at Lexington’s Mighty Warriors Wrestling Academy, owned by longtime friend and former White Knoll coach, Kevin Emily.

Emily and Kelly first connected when Emily was in Chattanooga, Tenn. He was looking for someone to come and teach his group, found Kelly’s information and gave him a call.

“I just called him because we as wrestlers, for the most part, we’re humble,” Emily said. “They got to put food on the table. So I called him, ‘What’s your fee? Done.’”

The two have been teamed up for many camps ever since. Both men come from a sport that has no true professional league but have found ways to capitalize on their expertise. Both men understand the importance of passing knowledge, and each has their own unique story.

Kelly reached the highest stage a wrestler can reach by representing the United States in the Olympics. His journey to making the team is one for the history books.

He was never a NCAA All-American. He never even won a high school state championship. But after an invitation to work with the 2000 Sydney team, he had a new-found confidence and determination to make the team.

“I just assumed guys were better than me and didn’t have as much confidence in myself and my abilities as I should have,” Kelly said. “Once I was able to overcome that mental hurdle, that’s when I was able to really jump in.”

Kelly credits that trip to Sydney as being the spark that lit the fire he needed to pursue a new dream.

“I never even had aspirations of making an Olympic team until I was 21 years old, which is kind of crazy,” Kelly said. “But I was fortunate enough to be able to go to Sydney as a training partner in 2000. I was able to go and see the Olympics and see the whole atmosphere and how much it means to represent your country, represent your school, represent your town and represent your family. It was something I knew that I wanted to try.”

Kelly not only qualified for the U.S. Olympic team, but he earned silver after beating future two-time world champion Makhach Murtazaliev in the semifinal. Two-time Ukrainian Olympic medalist and four-time world champion Elbrus Tedeyev took gold.

Although his playing days were done, Kelly did not leave the sport. He quickly jumped into coaching and has since been a college coach for almost 20 years. He spent time at Arizona State, Stanford, Cal Poly, Harvard and N.C. State before settling into his current job at UNC.

“Coaching college, it’s an experience. It’s obviously changed over the years,” Kelly said. “But just being able, like even with these camps, to give back and helping kids develop and helping them do more than what maybe they believe they can do. it’s a greater feeling than what I was able to accomplish myself.”

Like Kelly, Emily wanted to stay in the sport after his days as a participant were finished. Emily wrestled in high school and college at Chattanooga. Now he runs his own Lexington-based wrestling academy, taking on students from all over the southeast.

Emily had a long career as a high school coach at multiple schools, including White Knoll, where he became the school’s most successful coach. After separating from the school, he wanted to remain a key figure in the development of his former athletes, so he took his club team, the Mighty Warriors, and opened the Mighty Warriors Wrestling Academy.

“I promised my White Knoll wrestlers that I wasn’t going to leave them, and I was going to stay in the area,” Emily said. “We’ve been here for a year. Started with about 10 kids, and now, we have about 50.”

Emily is also a historian of the sport. He has written two volumes of his book, Pathfinder, which examines the history of Black wrestlers, starting with the sport’s origins in Africa. There is a section of Pathfinder dedicated to Kelly’s story.

Emily wrote another book on Carlton Haselrig, the only six-time NCAA wrestling champion in history. He is currently working on another book about some of the greatest high school wrestling coaches.

“The reason I do this is because when they say, ‘Well, what was your legacy?’ I provided knowledge that had never been written down,” Kelly said. “I gave back to my sport and that’s what I want to be known for, giving back, not my accolades. I just want to know that I wrote some books and educated some people.”

Together, Emily and Kelly are hoping their knowledge sticks with the group attending last week’s camp. It was an opportunity many never get, and they are hopeful the kids realize that and come to the conclusion that with hard work and a desire to learn, they can overcome any self-doubt and achieve their dreams.

“In wrestling, you have the opportunity to go to tournaments and show people who you are,” Kelly said. “So just letting them know that they can still accomplish a lot, even if they feel like it may be so far away and maybe behind other places and countries or states.”

Jamill Kelly, Kevin Emily, Olympics, Athens2004, Sydney2000, Paris2024


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