UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Cael is back.
That really says it all. The Heber City native has already stamped himself as the world's best wrestler, winning four state prep titles for Wasatch High before going undefeated and tearing his way to four NCAA wrestling championships. After winning a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Sanderson stepped off the mat and retired.
But, after a seven-year break from competing, the most intimidating figure in the sport has returned to take on the world this September.
Given such a major decision, Sanderson wasn't really sold on the idea until he set out to the U.S. World Team trials in Oklahoma City in June.
"I wasn't sure how I would do," Sanderson said. "It was my first real competition at my regular weight class in seven years."
Coasting through the competition, including a convincing win over 2009 world silver medalist Jake Herbert, Sanderson's return proved to be real and sent shock waves from State College, Pa., around the wrestling world to as far away as Moscow.
"It was nice to win the team trials," Sanderson, now 32, said. "But there are a lot of things I have to work on before the world championships."
The victory at the U.S. World team trials not only tested his skills, but also gave Sanderson a chance to cope with some new rules of the sport. The biggest rule change has to do with scoring. In the past wrestlers compiled points through three rounds. Now, each round is counted on its own with the winner needing to capture two of the three rounds.
"There are rule changes that I just need to get used to," Sanderson said. "The two-out-three rule was definitely different for me."
In the seven years since he last competed Sanderson's personal and professional life have has also significantly changed. Since standing atop the podium and having the gold medal place around his neck, he and wife Kelly have grown their family to include two sons, Tate (4) and Teag (1).
As for his children, they have no clue that daddy is the best wrestler in the world or that in two years he has coached the Penn State Nittany Lions to the 2011 Big Ten tournament title and the 2011 NCAA championship. As is typical, the two little Sandersons don't really care, and except for an occasional bruise Tate and Teag aren't really too impressed.
"When I come in they might see a black eye and say, 'Daddy, you have an owie,' " Sanderson said. "Then they want to go play one of their games."
As important as wrestling is in his life, family remains at the top of his priority list.
"Being a father and husband is my life," Sanderson said. "Kelly and the boys are my top priority. I travel a lot, but it's not like this is some hobby. The sport is my career."
"Some men are bankers or doctors or lawyers. I'm a wrestler. It's how I support my family."
Cael says Kelly, for her part, is the perfect wife for such a demanding career. Had it not been for Kelly, he may have never gone to the Olympics in Athens.
"Cael wasn't sure," Kelly said. "He felt bad because it took so much time and he was coaching. I told him he needed to do (the 2004 Games), that is was something he has worked toward his whole life and we as a couple had the rest of our lives to be together."
Cael says Kelly continues to be his greatest supporter.
"I am so blessed to have Kelly," Cael said. "She supports me in my career. I never have to worry that she's going to read me the riot act if I'm running late."
"She's got my back."
As for Cael's comeback, Kelly stands side by side with Cael, but this time around the decision was entirely up to him. Wrestle or not, either way it was fine for Kelly.
"We have had a lot of talks about the comeback and I am 100 percent behind him," Kelly said. "I would have been happy and content either way."
The tournament for the world's best is in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sept. 12-18. The difference between his training, which led him to Athens gold in 2004 and this world tournament is timing, or lack thereof. Training for the 2004 Games was what Sanderson did every day. It was his biggest priority. This world championship, as important as it is, Sanderson has his life going 100 miles an hour in several different directions.
"Being a head coach at Penn State is very time consuming," Sanderson said. "There's a lot of travel involved and speaking engagements and camps."
Sanderson took a moment to clear up some misconceptions concerning his move from Iowa State to Penn State.
"People say crazy things," Sanderson said. "Some people think Penn State called me with some ridiculous financial offer to take over as head coach. It's not what happened at all."
"Truth is, I called them."
"Penn State was one of those jobs I had in the back of my mind that if it ever came open I would look into it. That's what happened."
Another topic concerning Cael is whether the world championship will be his swan song or if Sanderson plans to carry the hopes of the United States to London for the 2012 Olympics Games.
"The Olympics are 13 months away and I would have a lot of preparing to do if I decided to go after that," Sanderson said. "I also have a team at Penn State that is preparing hard to defend its NCAA and Big 10 championships. I have my family to consider, but the Olympics? Yeah, it's on my mind."