Know Your Athlete, Sports

In conversation with McGill Olympian Dori Yeats

After just missing out on a bronze medal in the women’s 69 kg wrestling at the Rio Olympic Games last month, Canadian wrestler Dori Yeats is back at McGill, proud of her fifth place finish. She’s now eyeing the finish line of her civil engineering degree as well as looking forward to continuing her ascent in the world of wrestling after an extraordinary experience in Rio.

“Coming fifth is a huge improvement for me. I know I’m on the right track,” Yeats said. “But on the other hand, I lost my bronze medal match by a point. To know that I was that close to a medal is pretty rough, but I couldn’t have asked much more of myself.”

Right now, Yeats is faced with the difficult task of balancing her rigorous competition schedule with the completion of her civil engineering degree. While the two may seem unrelated, Yeats believes that her studies are helping her wrestling career.

“A lot of people compare [wrestling] to a chess game on the mats, because […] you have to strategize and think really quickly on your feet […] a lot of logical thinking is used, in a lot of ways,” Yeats explained. “I almost feel more creative and more able to wrestle […] after I’ve done a class at McGill where I think my brain’s been working really hard to solve physics problems. And then I’ll go on the wrestling mats and I find that my problem solving abilities are much quicker, and that I’ve been using that part of my brain which otherwise I probably wouldn’t have used.”

Although McGill lacks a women’s wrestling team, Yeats finds that the university has still contributed to her success. Ultimately, she relies on the understanding and empathy of her professors when competitions come in conflict with school work. Professors have responded in a mixed fashion; since Yeats doesn’t classify as a McGill athlete, some of her teachers have been reluctant to defer assignments or make academic exceptions.

“I’ve had a few teachers who were really accommodating,” Yeats said. “[They] told me that if I needed to give an assignment a bit later, they’d give me exemptions. But, in general, [exemptions are] rare, because […] I don’t represent McGill. I’m just doing my own extracurricular [activities].”

Representing Canada at Rio has been the highlight of Yeats’ athletic career. She is quick to counter the negative media perception of the Rio Olympics which focused on Zika virus, corruption, and poor facilities. Though the Olympic Village wasn’t the apex of luxury, it was similar to the low-end accommodations Yeats experienced during competitions in places like Mongolia and China. While athletes were warned that the areas outside the Olympic Village were unsafe, nobody was in any real danger unless they left the designated Olympic area.

“There was room for improvement, but I can’t make it seem like it was a big disaster,” Yeats said. “They definitely got the job done [and the] volunteers were super friendly and helpful. I think it was run well. You can’t always believe what the media says.”    

When reflecting on the best advice her father, five time Canadian Olympic wrestler Doug Yeats, has ever given her, Dori Yeats acknowledges how much she learned from her father about both wrestling and life outside the sport.

“‘Don’t lose your personality or who you are in order to make it in sport,’” Yeats said, paraphrasing her dad. “In the end, it is just a sport […] Sure I could be an Olympic champion, but it won’t mean anything [if I’m unhappy]. So, following school, in the program I wanted to do, while juggling wrestling and enjoying all of it is sort of what I’ve been focusing on and living by.”

While Yeats just missed out on a medal in her first Olympics, she has the potential to join Canadian gold medallist Erica Wiebe as one of the top wrestlers in the world. While the Tokyo Olympics are four years away, a podium finish in 2020 isn’t out of the question.

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