Trent Paulson sat in a chair near the edge of the mat.
Beads of sweat trickled down his face as he tried to catch his breath following his finals match at the U.S. Nationals on April 11 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Winning a hard-fought, nip-and-tuck, three-period battle over talented young Brent Metcalf in the freestyle finals at 145.5 lbs. was difficult enough.
But sitting there in the corner, watching his brother Travis trying to match his feat in the finals at 163 lbs., was even more stressful.
“I get more nervous watching Travis,” Trent said, “than I do for more my own matches.”
Said Travis: “I don’t like wrestling right after him. I get really nervous, and it’s like I’m wrestling the match with him. I didn’t watch his finals match in Vegas because I didn’t want to get emotionally drained before I competed.”
There typically is a special bond shared between identical siblings. And you won’t find a pair of twins closer than the Paulson brothers.
The 26-year-olds have more in common than their appearance. They both enter the U.S. World Team Trials on May 30-31 as the favorites to win their weight classes. Both won U.S. Nationals titles to earn berths in the best-of-3 freestyle finals at the Trials.
They also will be competing in their hometown of Council Bluffs, Iowa, at the Trials.
If the Paulsons win the Trials, they will both qualify for the World Championships for the first time. The Worlds are set for Sept. 21-27 in Herning, Denmark.
“That’s our goal, to win a World title and win the Olympics,” Trent said. “That’s what pushes us every day in practice. We want to be the best.”
The Paulsons arrived at Iowa State University with impressive credentials.
Both were multiple state champions for Council Bluffs Lewis Central High School. Both won Junior Nationals titles.
The twins excelled at the collegiate level. Both were three-time All-Americans.
But they did fall short of their shared goal of both winning NCAA titles. Trent won an NCAA title at 157 as a senior, but Travis fell short after losing to two-time NCAA champion Johny Hendricks of Oklahoma State in the 165 semifinals.
“It was bittersweet,” Travis said. “That was the proudest I’ve ever been of Trent. I was so happy for him. At the same time, I was crushed because I didn’t win.
Said Trent: “We both wanted to win NCAA titles, but our goal is still alive to be World and Olympic champions. That’s what we’re shooting for now.”
Even though they are competing in weight classes almost 20 pounds apart, it is still tough to tell the Paulson twins apart.
Trent was born 20 minutes earlier than Travis. Travis is an inch taller. Trent has a scar on his cheek and Travis has one on his forehead.
“And I think his beard’s usually a little more hairy than mine,” Travis said with a laugh.
Both wrestlers would fit best at 163 pounds, but they want to make the World Team together.
157 was their ideal weight in college, but Travis made the sacrifice by bumping up a class to 165. Trent is now returning the favor by cutting down to 145.5.
The Paulsons also excel in Greco-Roman, and both could wrestle at 163 if one twin wrestled freestyle and the other wrestled Greco.
But they also want to train together, and that would be difficult if they compete in different styles.
Their matchups in the room are hard-fought, but not as heated as they used to be.
“We’ve always been pretty even,” Trent said. “We would dislocate our arm before we would let the other guy get a takedown. I didn’t want anybody to beat me, especially my brother. It’s tough wrestling him now, because he’s bigger and I’m keeping my weight down. It’s frustrating at times.”
To say the Paulsons were a handful growing up is a huge understatement.
The twins were so hyperactive, their teachers suggested putting them on the drug Ritalin to calm them down.
The Paulsons’ mother, Mary Ann, had a different idea. She had Trent and Travis take up wrestling.
“We had endless amounts of energy,” Trent said.
That energy was on full display during their early days of elementary school.
“The teacher left the room,” Trent said. “By the time she got back, the entire class was out of their desks and had made a circle around us. We were on the floor wrestling. I already had a broken arm and had a cast on my arm wearing colored contacts, but Travis wasn’t taking it easy on me by any means. We were really going at it. I think I kicked his shoe when he was walking by and that started it all.”
Said Travis: “We got into it all the time. It went back and forth. We got in a lot of fights with each other.”
The Paulsons used their abundant energy supply to excel in wrestling.
Weighing exactly the same created problems in tournaments where they ended up in the same bracket. They would often advance to the finals against each other.
But they’ve never met in competition. The first time they were supposed to wrestle, their parents flipped a coin and the winner of the flip won the match by forfeit.
They’ve alternated winners ever since, without stepping on the mat. At Junior Nationals, they were declared double champions in Greco-Roman after both making the finals.
They both ended up in the third-place match in freestyle.
“That sucked,” Travis said with a laugh, “because it was my turn to forfeit and he got third and I got fourth.”
If Trent bumps up to 163 pounds next year, he and Travis may meet in competition for the first time.
“We’ve talked about it,” Travis said. “We wouldn’t flip a coin anymore. There’s too much at stake. We would just have to battle it out on the mat.”
The Paulsons will have their share of support for the Trials, which will be held at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
The Paulsons will look to hit the jackpot at a venue that sits near the three large casinos located in Council Bluffs, situated right across the Missouri River from Omaha, Neb.
As soon as tickets went on sale for the event, the Paulsons’ mother, Mary Ann, bought 100 tickets in the VIP section.
Trent said T-shirts are being made for everyone in the section to wear during the Trials.
“I’m so excited about wrestling in Council Bluffs,” Trent said. “It’s going to be a pretty loud and pretty fun atmosphere to wrestle in. It will be almost like a home meet for us. All our family and friends know how much we’ve put into our careers. Having the Trials in our hometown, I don’t know what else you can ask for.”
Said Travis: “It’s definitely an advantage, having our friends and family there. It’s going to be a great atmosphere for us in Council Bluffs. But it’s all business when I step on the mat. I need to be confident, and I still need to execute my game plan and strategy. I need to do everything I can to make that World Team. It would be great to make that team at home.”
The Paulsons train in Lincoln, Neb., in the wrestling room of their former rival, the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Nebraska coach Mark Manning, who recruited the Paulsons when they were in high school, now works closely with the talented young twins.
The Paulsons also train with some of the top college wrestlers in the Husker room, including 2009 NCAA champion Jordan Burroughs of Nebraska.
Manning is one of the U.S. World Team coaches this year.
“It’s been great over at Nebraska,” Trent said. “We didn’t lose anything by coming over here after being at Iowa State. Manning’s been great. He puts us through freestyle practices and takes the extra time to help us. He’s gone above and beyond to help us out.”
Said Travis: “It’s a perfect situation for us in Lincoln. We are real comfortable in Lincoln. Manning has bent over backwards to help us. He’s a great guy to work with.”
Nobody has bought into the USA Wrestling freestyle program more in the past few months than the Paulson twins.
They were at the U.S. Olympic Training Center this past fall for the Freestyle Summit. They’ve been to all the training camps at the OTC. They’ve competed extensively overseas and placed in a number of events.
And they’ve taken part in the camps their club, the Sunkist Kids, has provided for them.
“We’ve bought in 100 percent to what USA Wrestling and (first-year National Coach) Zeke Jones is preaching,” Travis said. “Any opportunity that we have to get better, we’re going to take advantage of. Me and Keith Gavin, we are 1-2 on the ladder right now, but we’re going to wrestle each other because we want to get better. All our top guys need to train together and push each other.”
The Paulsons also spend an abundance of time studying tape of their U.S. and foreign opponents.
“In the past, I’ve never been one to break down film,” Travis said. “But I got all the DVDs and watched every single match from the Olympics in my weight class. I ended up taking 10 pages of notes from watching all the tape. I was looking at what was working and it’s helped me. I didn’t realize how much I was missing out on by not watching video.”
The Paulsons are determined to see the U.S. return to the top of the World in freestyle wrestling.
“I definitely think the U.S. can get back on top,” Trent said. “We have a lot of hungry young guys who can make an impact. A lot of these young guys are buying in, and those are the guys who are winning right now.”
Said Travis: “I can definitely see us being right up there with Russia at the next Olympics. That’s our goal.”
No matter what happens – or even if they wind up battling one another in the same weight class down the road – the close bond between the Paulson twins will never be broken.
“We’re about as close as two people can be,” Trent said. “We can read each others’ minds. We feed off each other. If something is bothering him, I can tell just by looking at him. We read each other like a book. If I see him working hard in practice, I want to work just as hard.”
The Paulsons not only grew up in the same house together, they lived in the same house when they attended college in Ames, Iowa.
They now live together in the same apartment in Lincoln.
“Trent’s my best friend,” Travis said. “We’re around each other virtually 24 hours a day. I’m around him more than I would be around a wife or a girlfriend. We get along really well and really support each other. It’s a pretty special relationship. I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now without him.”
Traveling together this fall on the same flight to Denmark, as members of the same U.S. World Team, is a very realistic goal for the twins.
“It would be awesome to be on that World Team with Trent,” Travis said. “It would be the best feeling you can have. It would be like the cherry on the sundae.”