From gelato to Beijing

By Kaylee King

Lawrence Langowski knew it was the biggest competition of his life before he stepped onto the wrestling mat. The 23-year-old Mexican-Polish-American freestyle wrestler was just trying to relax and appreciate where he was. He worked four hard years to get to the Beijing Olympics, competing internationally since high school and undergoing a painful knee injury that later led to surgery. Aug. 21 proved to be a memorable day in his life.

“I just said, ‘Man this is it; I’m going to wrestle in the Olympics. It’s showtime,'” Langowski said.

The match didn’t turn out the way Langowski would have liked it to, with a loss to Iran’s Fardin Masoumi that took him out of the medal contention. But that match was a miniscule part of Langowski’s journey to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The Chicago native, who lives in Logan Square, wrestled for Northwestern University, earned an Academic All-Big Ten award and had a first-place finish at the Olympic Elite Junior National Wrestling Championships in Culiacan, Mexico.

On Aug. 26, just five days after returning home from China, Lawrence’s father, Larry Langowski, sat at Johnny’s Grill, 2545 N. Kedzie Ave., a diner in Logan Square that bears an eerie resemblance to the famous Edward Hopper painting, “Nighthawks.” Over a mug of coffee and a plate of bacon and eggs, the proud father recalled how “Junior,” as he calls him, came up to the stands after the match.

“He came up and said, ‘How’d I look? I looked real bad,’ and I said, ‘Larry, I don’t care … you’re at the Olympics!,'” Langowski said.

Junior knows that he made a couple of mistakes early in the match where he could have shut down Masoumi’s offense because he scoped out his opponent from a video on YouTube. He and his training partner tried to strategize based on the video clip.

“As long as he was on his feet, he was in the match,” his father said.

Gloria Balague, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who has worked with Olympic athletes, said a lot of athletes get worked up before the match and think they have to do something different or special.

The athletes sometimes abandon their initial plan and start to think they’re not good enough, but she said athletes don’t always get discouraged.

It all depends on how much of their identity is tied to the sport, she said, “But usually if athletes know they still have it in them to perform better, their loss spurs them to work harder and smarter.”

And that’s just what Langowski plans to do. He said he will definitely consider trying out for the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London and will continue to compete internationally.

“I’m going to stick around for a little bit and see where wrestling takes me,” he said.

Both Larry and Junior have their own unique stories from the Beijing trip. Junior remembers doing an interview with Telemundo on the Great Wall of China when a thunderstorm rolled through. He was stuck on the Great Wall for three hours when he and a partner started doing some easy wrestling drills.

“Before we knew it, we had a crowd of 30 or so gathered around us cheering us on,” he said.

As for Larry, he enjoyed hearing stories from the 22-year-old woman, Monica, whom he and his wife stayed with. She told them of her grandfather’s days as a militiaman and took Larry to Tiananmen Square, a site he was looking forward to seeing. Larry was impressed with the subways and buses in China, touting modern styles and TV screens airing the Olympic Games 24/7. He was even called “Christmas man” by a few because of his bushy white beard and subtle resemblance to Santa Claus. The women who gave directions in the Olympic Village impressed him, too.

“There were these Barbie-like women fabulously guiding me along,” he said. “They were no Chicago Police that’s for sure.”

As for Junior, the loss doesn’t have him in dire spirits. He is, however, recovering from the jetlag sparked by a 13-hour time difference. He plans to get back to reality and keep improving his gelato and ice cream cafe, Heavenly, 2654 N. Sawyer Ave., in Logan Square.