UNIVERSITY PARK - It was a rare sight, Cael Sanderson with a slightly swollen right eye, looking red and as fresh as if it had been bleeding from the eyelid only moments before.
The wrestling wound, suffered in a tussle with U.S. Olympic Team member Jake Varner, served as a cautious reminder as to not only how taxing the sport can be on the body, but also how time consuming it can be for a wrestler with Olympic aspirations.
For now, Sanderson, the Penn State wrestling coach, doesn't have them.
Sanderson will not join his four pupils, Penn State's David Taylor, Ed Ruth, Quentin Wright and Matt Brown, when they compete in next weekend's Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City.
For Sanderson, a man who won nearly every award he could win as a collegiate wrestler and already has an Olympic gold medal to show for the time he's put in on the mat over the years, it wasn't a tough decision.
"I didn't really plan on competing at all this year," Sanderson said. "I kind of hinted at it, but I didn't really want to say anything just because I didn't want to come out and (take focus off of the team). But no, it wasn't really a difficult choice."
In the end, Sanderson, 32, decided his responsibilities as a father of two young boys and duties as a coach to many other young men outweighed another personal quest.
"Freestyle is a sport where you're wrestling because you love it and you want to be an Olympic champion. It's not you're job," Sanderson said. "You're kind of postponing your career and a lot of times a family and those types of things because you want to win at that level so bad."
And while Sanderson wouldn't rule out a later return to competition, he has been to the mountaintop before.
He won gold in Athens, Greece, in 2004, then came out of what was then a seven-year retirement to win the World Team Trials last June at 84 kilograms. Because the trials were later last year due to it not being an Olympic year, Sanderson was able to use April and May to prepare himself.
"I just had an open window there," Sanderson said. "I just figured, I had been thinking about doing it so I went with it and made weight. I didn't even know if I could make weight and it went well. But then your responsibilities (as a collegiate coach) kick back in. Because May is kind of a down month for us, but then you start hitting camps, summer challenges, that's one I wasn't really sure what I was doing there."
Eventually, Sanderson's brief return ended when he finished fifth at the World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. Sanderson said his results last year didn't factor into his decision not to compete this year.
"If I would've won - I don't think I was prepared to win - but had I won, I don't think that would really change anything," Sanderson said. "Because even losing, I came back and, (I thought) 'I've got to do this right.' Then as soon as I had a little time to get my mind right, I kind of realized it's just not something that I (wanted). You've got to really want it at that level and you've got to be willing to do what it takes to be successful."
While numerous Penn State wrestlers voiced their hopes that Sanderson would compete again, they understand why their coach decided not to dust off the singlet.
"It's a personal choice, but we were supportive either way," Brown said. "We love Coach Cael and we're grateful that he can help us out in any way that he can."
Instead of competing, Sanderson will continue on in his current role as coach and plans on being in the corners of most of the members of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club that will make the trip to Iowa City.
"Everybody wants to see him wrestle and what he did last year was unbelievable and amazing," Varner, a former standout for Sanderson at Iowa State said. "I don't know how he did it, but he did it, and it was awesome. But you don't really think about that kind of stuff. It's his choice and I support him either way what he does. It was exciting to watch him last year, but just knowing he's going to be in my corner, it's fine."
For Wright, learning that Sanderson will have his back instead of trying to gain control of it in a meaningful match came as a relief.
"Well, yeah. Of course," Wright quipped when asked if he was glad he wouldn't have to wrestle his coach in the 84-kilogram bracket. "He's definitely the best in the country still and I wouldn't want to wrestle him out there."