Hall of Fame

Jesse Jantzen

Graduation Year


Induction Year


Hall of Fame

Harvard Athletic Achievements

2004 NCAA Champion and NCAA Championships Most Outstanding Wrestler … 3-time All-American (2004, 2003, 2002) and 4-time NCAA Qualifier … 3-time EIWA Champion (2004, 2003, 2002) and 4-time EIWA Placewinner … EIWA Wrestler of the Year (2004), EIWA Championships Outstanding Wrestler (2002), EIWA Billy Sheridan Memorial Award (2002), and EIWA John Fletcher Award (2004, 2003) recipient … EIWA Hall of Fame (2014) inductee … Ivy League Wrestler of the Year (2004), Ivy League Rookie of the Year (2001), and 4-time All-Ivy League first team (2004, 2003, 2002, 2001) … Harvard career record holder for wins (132) and pins (50) … Helped Harvard to the 2001 EIWA Tournament and Ivy League Championships … William J. Bingham ’16 Award co-recipient as the most outstanding male athlete in the Class of 2004 … 2-time team captain (2004, 2003) … NWCA All-Academic first team (2003) … World University Games Champion (2005).

Hall of Fame

Remembering Harvard Athletics

Wrestling has been a major part of my life for the past 30 years. Watching John Smith win Olympic gold during the 1988 Summer Olympics was where my love for the sport began. It’s a very special sport. One that juxtaposes confidence and humility like nothing I have ever experienced. A sport that bridges cultural gaps to nearly 100 countries worldwide, all races, demographics, genders, sizes, and shapes. It is, without question, the fairest sport in the world, giving everyone with a work ethic an opportunity at greatness. It’s the oldest Olympic sport and one that requires a monk-like lifestyle and focus. Wrestling at Harvard has given me, beyond anything else, a large “capacity for suffering,” the ability to problem solve, adapt, endure, and win under very grueling and difficult circumstances. That’s why I’m proud of my time as a student-athlete at Harvard. I am so thankful that Coach Weiss, Bill Cleary ’56, Bob Scalise, and our wrestling alums took a chance on a jock from Long Island who knew more about lifting 2x4s than Voltaire. As I look back on my time at Harvard, my favorite memories include my teammates and classmates. They made my college experience unforgettable and helped me achieve my athletic goals. Amongst those memories are the 2001 EIWA Team Championship, the 2001 Ivy League Team Championship, becoming the program’s first 3-tme All-American, and becoming the 2004 149lbs NCAA Champion and Most Outstanding Wrestler. I am extremely proud of those achievements, not only because I accomplished a childhood dream, but also because I was able to honor my University, coaches, friends, and family who believed in me. Accomplishments are complex. You feel moments of immense glory and joy, but those can be fleeting. Fellow Harvard alum Damien Chazelle’s ’07 movie, “First Man,” depicts this dichotomy brilliantly. By landing on the moon, Neil Armstrong arguably accomplished one of the most historic feats of mankind; yet instead of feeling overwhelming happiness, he is overcome with relief. My interpretation of this is that validating a life of sacrifice is more important and fulfilling than the glory of achieving the goal itself, which is an emotion with which I can relate. Falling short of your goals can provide great lessons, but can also leave an emptiness. This is something I felt my first three seasons competing for Harvard. At the time, I was overwhelmed by personal pressure, thinking my job as a student-athlete was to win a national championship and bring our program to new heights. To that point, I had yet to honor my commitment to the program and our University. The coaches felt I was overtraining and they were probably right. But I knew no other way; I was programed to believe if I put more hours in than my opponents I couldn’t be beat. Mentally it gave me confidence to know I outworked every person, not just in my weight class, but every weight class around the world. This obsession can make you great but can also lead to burning out. It was a train harder, not train smarter mantra. The summer heading into my senior year, I was on the Long Island Sound wakeboarding with friends having the time of our lives...golden skin, long salty hair, and not a care; my bliss. I realized in that moment I needed to take a piece of this onto the wrestling mat, bring joy into my training, competition, and my relationship with the sport. Wrestling is a relentless and unforgiving sport which tests an athlete’s mental/physical limits every day. In order to win, I would need to change the narrative in my head, I would have to make competing fun again. So I kept the long hair, like a surfer bro, let the sun heal the body, and summoned a Kelly Slater like zen for my final season. I trusted that I had put a lifetime of training into this sport and no one was more prepared. That said, I’m not quite sure I trained any less than I had in the past, as a typical day was quite full: 6:30am morning workout, class all day, 3:30pm wrestling practice, study, watch VHS tapes on all my ranked opponents, and, finally, a 10:00pm lift in the dorm basement. Though I had long hair and a great tan, my senior season was not all sunshine and rainbows. I tore the labrum in my hip, had the flu, got a high ankle sprain, and battled to keep my weight under control. To add insult to injury, after a tough, double overtime match with an Ivy League opponent, people questioned my number one ranking. Many critics thought I would never win a cational championship. However, my coaches, teammates and family kept my confidence high. They kept me focused through the injuries and adversity. No matter the circumstances, I was prepared to wrestle the final tournament of my college career. As a college wrestler, your entire career comes down to one tournament: the NCAA Championships. It is arguably the most grueling sporting event in the world. It is contested by 320 of the most hungry, angry, 18-22 year old warriors, all battling for nothing more than pride. My mindset going into the tournament was to wrestle smart, tactical, and do whatever was necessary to advance. Although my bracket was filled with formidable opponents and was possibly the toughest weight class in the tournament, I focused on one match at a time and sticking to my game plan. I won my first four matches and punched my ticket to the NCAA finals. While this was a feat I had not previously accomplished, I had little time to enjoy it because I needed to immediately begin my two hour weight cut to shed seven pounds for the final weigh-in. Normally, it is nearly impossible to sleep before a big match. You are on weight and your body is restless, thirsty, and hungry. To make matters worse, your mind can’t help but race as you run through every possible scenario of your match. Surprisingly though, that night, I fell asleep with ease and had the most vivid dream. I was walking out of the tunnel to the raised platform and stepped on the resilite of the final mat. Coach Weiss grabbed me by the arm sternly, almost to jar something loose, “Jesse, it’s your time, now go out there and take it!” (probably because I watched the movie, “Miracle,” 100 times that year). I then proceeded to dominate my opponent and win the first national title in our program’s modern history. The next morning, I woke up to a letter slid under my hotel room door with my name on it. Inside was a note from Coach Weiss that read “Jesse, it’s your time, now go out there and take it!” I made weight seamlessly, then got in a hard warm-up with my teammate, Max Meltzer ’06, and ate some food. As I sat in my hotel room awaiting my last college wrestling match, I made a conscious effort to distract my mind, as it’s very easy to be consumed by pre-match anxiety. I went back to my “Happy Place” and watched some surfing videos to get Zen before the finals.I approached the finals like every match before it. I got to the arena an hour beforehand and went through my usual routine: light jogging, stretching, agilities, and gymnastics. Next, I would do 20 reps of my top techniques, followed by a 3-minute live spar and mental preparation. At this point, the mental aspect of the sport is by far the most important. The hardest thing a combat sports athlete has to do is control their thought process. Wrestling, like all fighting, is extremely emotional. You’re constantly filled with doubt, fear, and inadequacy. You obsess over your opponent’s strengths, training regime, and skills. But in order to achieve any success, you must block those creeping thoughts and focus on your own abilities, as well as exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses. I distinctly recall feeling prepared but nervous as the NCAA finals began. The 133lbs weight class started, which cued my pre-match warm-up. Every athlete is different, but if you are an offensive wrestler, you generally want to head into the match like it is the second period, already physically hitting your stride. Athletes often go in cold, which leads to a slow start and results in mistakes. Since a college wrestling match is only seven minutes, any mistake can be catastrophic. As Al Pacino would say, it’s a game of inches! While warming up, I was pacing and visualizing each scenario in which I could win: by fall, technical fall, overtime, by one point or an epic come-from-behind win. I needed to believe that I could win under every circumstance. I said to myself, “I am faster than this guy, stronger than this guy, more experienced than this guy, smarter than this guy, better-looking than this guy, a better person than this guy, I have worked harder than this guy, and I’m cooler than this guy.” I needed to build the narrative that there was absolutely nothing that could prevent me from winning a national title. I stared at my opponent warming up; he was drilling defenses to all my techniques, especially the one that I was known for. I had previously wrestled his older brother and knew he would be very familiar with my grappling style and strengths. As I continued to stare at his preparation, I could not help but think “good, keep practicing, it will make it that much more gratifying when I beat you with that exact technique.” Immediately after that thought, nerves again began to creep in and I could not help but think, “What if he could stop me, how would I pivot and find a way to win?” This may seem a bit manic, but during this period of time, there exists an internal struggle between extreme confidence and self-doubt. I began to rationalize the thought of losing: “Second place is still great, 3-time All-American is the first time in Harvard wrestling history, you have a Harvard degree, and you’re not supposed to win, it’s not that big of a deal in the larger picture of life, he could catch me, I could get tired, I could get hurt, I could get embarrassed…” I felt my heart beating faster and faster, which often leads to fatigue and wasted nervous energy. I started to panic, but walked to the bathroom, stared in the mirror at my broken nose, bloody face and swollen-shut eye. I splashed water on my face and said “it’s your time, now go out there and take it!” I put my iPod on and played DMX’s “X Gonna Give it to Ya,” took my shirt off, pulled up the straps of my singlet and put my head-gear on. The ESPN runners grabbed me and said “It’s time.” As I walked out of the tunnel, it seemed like the 17,000 spectators erupted in cheers for my opponent from Oklahoma State. I was nervous and my heart was racing. I felt like Mike Tyson walking out for a prize fight, confident beyond all measure but scared to death at the same time. Confidence paired with extreme dread -- that feeling of butterflies combined with nausea -- is one of the greatest, yet most uncomfortable feelings in the world. It is a “hurt-so-good” experience, something adrenaline junkies chase yet simultaneously despise. The closer Tyson got to the ring, the more fearless he became; like Iron Mike, once I stepped on that mat and heard our credentials announced, I felt like a god and there was no one in the world who could have beaten me. The whistle blew and I attacked with a left-handed collar tie, then a right-handed underhook to an ankle pick (in layman’s terms, I clubbed his head, hooked his armpit and then grabbed his opposite ankle). In wrestling vernacular, this was my go-to attack on my feet. But, like most things in sports and life, the first move doesn’t always work, so I had a series of subsequent moves that depended on my opponent’s reaction. This time, my opponent went down on the second movement. I felt much stronger than him and, though I wanted to stick to the game plan of being cautious, I smelled blood and almost pinned him in the first ten seconds. I scored two points and got a quick turn with the exact move I had seen him training to defend in his warm-up. A 5-0 lead in the NCAA finals felt insurmountable, yet I needed to stay offensive and try to score from every position. Pundits have always criticized my ability to takedown my opponents; that night, I would make sure to score several takedowns before closing the match out. Once I solidified my lead, the bout felt like it was going in slow motion. My focus was on improving position and scoring, while keeping an eye on the match time. I was squeezing my arms so tightly that I could feel the lactic acid building up and beginning to paralyze my muscles. In the end, the only points I gave up in the match were penalty points and forced escapes. When the final seconds expired, I had accomplished the goal that had eluded me the past three years. I turned to my small, but powerful, Harvard cheering section in order to thank those who supported me. To my surprise, the entire stadium stood and gave a standing ovation. I felt so proud, I celebrated by displaying the Harvard on my chest to the 17,000 standing fans. While the adulation of the large crowd admittedly felt good, I realized in that moment that a dream is only as good as the people with whom you share it, and if you are going to train six hours a day for 15 years of your life you better f*cking win!