June 20, 1979 |
Salt Lake City, Utah
|High school||Heber City (UT) Wasatch|
|State championships||4 (Utah)|
|College||Iowa State University|
|Olympic team||United States of America|
|Status||Head Coach for Penn State Nittany Lions Wrestling|
|Olympic medal record|
|Men's freestyle wrestling|
|Gold||Athens 2004||84 kg|
|Silver||2003 New York||84 kg|
|Pan American Games|
|Bronze||2003 Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic||84 kg|
Cael Norman Sanderson (// KALE; born June 20, 1979, in Salt Lake City, Utah) is an American college wrestling coach and current head wrestling coach of Penn State University. He is considered one of the greatest American amateur wrestlers in recent history. A 2004 Olympic champion in Athens, Greece, he went undefeated in four years of college wrestling at Iowa State University (159–0), winning four consecutive NCAA titles (1999–2002). He is the only wrestler in NCAA Division I history to go undefeated in official matches with more than 100 wins. Sports Illustrated named his college career as the second most impressive college sports feat behind the setting of four world records by Jesse Owens in a single hour at the 1935 Big Ten track and field conference championship meet.
In just five years as Penn State's head coach, Sanderson has led the Nittany Lions to four-straight conference titles, four straight national titles, collected 19 All-Americans, eight national champions, three Gorriaran winners, one two-time NCAA tourney OW and one two-time Hodge Trophy winner. 
Cael was the third of four Sanderson brothers to win high school state wrestling titles in Utah while wrestling for Wasatch High School in Heber City, Utah. Sanderson had a 127–3 record with four state titles. He was coached by his father Steve. He was also an All-region selection in football.
After graduation from Wasatch High in 1997, Sanderson matriculated to Iowa State (ISU). He redshirted the 1997–98 season. In his second year wrestling as now a redshirt freshman, Sanderson won all 39 matches and the NCAA title at 184 pounds (83 kg). He became the first freshman in NCAA tournament history to be named the NCAA Wrestling Team Championship's most outstanding wrestler.
Sanderson continued to have unblemished success in the 1999–00 season. He completed the season 40–0 with another NCAA title. He also won the Dan Hodge Trophy as the nation's most outstanding college wrestler. He was the first underclassman to win the Hodge Trophy. In the off season, he won the World University title in Tokyo, Japan.
As a junior, Sanderson went 40–0, raising his record to 119–0. He broke ISU alumnus Dan Gable's record of 98 consecutive wins. He was also named outstanding wrestler in the NCAA tournament and was the first two-time winner of the Dan Hodge Trophy.
Sanderson's 2001–02 campaign was a coronation of sorts. He again went undefeated at 40–0. He became the second wrestler to win an NCAA Division I individual title four times, the first being Pat Smith. He also won his third Dan Hodge Trophy as outstanding wrestler. Sanderson set an NCAA record with 159 straight wins. His success brought attention even from non-wrestling fans. Sanderson was the first wrestler since 1988's "Wheaties Search for Champions" winner, Sammy Chagolla, to be featured on Wheaties cereal boxes for his achievement. His final college accomplishments were a record of 159–0, 4 NCAA titles, 3 Dan Hodge Trophy awards, 4-time NCAA Outstanding Wrestler, and 4-time Big 12 Conference Champion.
Sanderson wasn’t quite as successful in freestyle wrestling as he was in collegiate folkstyle wrestling. In 2000, he went 17-6 and didn’t make the U.S. Olympic team while being defeated by Justin Abdou (Canada), Les Gutches (Sunkist Kids), Lee Fullhart (Hawkeye WC), Ray Brinzer (Dave Schultz WC), Mike Van Arsdale (U.S. Army), and Alexei Kaziev (Russia).
When he concentrated on freestyle wrestling after his collegiate career was over, he had to work his way up to the Olympic Games. In 2003, Sanderson was defeated by Yoel Romero (Cuba) at the Titan Games, Vadym Tokaev (Russia) at the Kiev Grand Prix, Khadsimurad Gatsalov (Russia) at the World Cup, Yoel Romero (Cuba) at the Pan-Am Games, and Sajid Sajidov (Russia) at the World Championships.
In 2004, Sanderson was also downed by Sajid Sajidov (Russia) at the Ivan Yarygin Memorial International and Lee Fullhart (Gator WC) at the U.S. Nationals. However, he was able to secure the Olympic team berth and proceeded to the Athens games.
Sanderson competed at the 2011 World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. He lost to Sharif Sharifov of Azerbaijan and Albert Saritov of Russia and did not earn a medal.
After graduation, Sanderson became an assistant coach with the Iowa State wrestling team while training for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Sanderson won gold at the 84 kg (184.8 lb.) weight class, defeating Eui Jae Moon of South Korea in the finals.
He was also the 2003 World Championship silver medalist, and a three-time national freestyle champion (2001–03).
Iowa State's coach Bobby Douglas supervised Cael's training for the 2004 Olympics.
Sanderson began his coaching career at his Alma Mater, Iowa State University as an assistant coach in 2004. A season later, he was promoted to become the associate head coach. In 2007, Sanderson became the head wrestling coach of Iowa State. In his rookie campaign, Sanderson had the Cyclones finish second at NCAA championships, and was awarded "National Coach of the Year". In three seasons as the head coach for ISU, Sanderson led the team to a runner-up finish at the NCAA Championships and three Big 12 Conference team titles.
In 2009, Sanderson accepted the position as its 12th head wrestling coach at Penn State University (PSU), starting with the 2009-10 season. In only his second year, he coached the Nittany Lions to the 2010-11 Big Ten Championship and the NCAA Championship. This was the first Big Ten wrestling championship in the school's history and their first NCAA team title since 1953. The team posted 139 points in the Big 10 tournament with 5 individual champions (Andrew Long, Frank Molinaro, David Taylor, Ed Ruth, and Quentin Wright) The team posted 107.5 points in the NCAA tournament with one individual champion (Quentin Wright). Cornell University placed second with 93.5 points.
During the 2011-12 season, Sanderson lead the Nittany Lions to their second straight Big Ten Title posting 149 points with three champions (David Taylor, Ed Ruth, and Frank Molinaro). He went on to coach PSU to claim its second Division-I NCAA Team title in Sanderson's third year as head coach. The team posted a score of 143.5 points with three individual champions (David Taylor, Ed Ruth, and Frank Molinaro). Minnesota placed second with 117.5 points.
Under Sanderson, Penn State has won four consecutive national titles, from 2011-2014.
Awards and honors
Sanderson's three brothers also wrestled at Iowa State. Cody, Cole, and Cael all graduated from ISU, while the youngest brother, Cyler, was a 157 pounds (71 kg) wrestler. Cyler transferred to PSU to continue wrestling with his brother Cael and in 2010 won the Big Ten championship at 157 lbs.
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- Hamilton, Andy (21 July 2012). "Cael Sanderson elected to Des Moines Sunday Register's Iowa Sports Hall of Fame". Des Moines Register. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
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- Swensen, Jason (2 April 2011). "Mormon athletes celebrate season of achievements". Retrieved 25 May 2012.