"Silver or bronze would be a failure," Thielke says. "Gold is the only option."
It's bold talk, but his performances over the last two months have put the Greco-Roman wrestlers in his weight class (59 kilograms/130 pounds) on notice.
First, there was his dominant run through the U.S. Olympic trials, where he whipped two-time Olympian Spenser Mango, 8-0, in the semifinals _ Mango retired after the match _ and overwhelmed former Uzbekistan Olympian and naturalized U.S. citizen Ildar Havisov, 10-0 and 8-3, in the best two-of-three match final.
Thielke, who finished a disappointing fourth at the 2012 trials, was finally an Olympian. But he was only halfway to Rio.
The U.S. had not yet qualified his weight class for the Games, so Thielke packed his singlet and headed to Mongolia, where he stumbled in his first match in the penultimate Olympic qualifying tournament.
"That was a really bad match," Thielke said. "It was frustrating, but I had no choice but to get over it."
Two weeks later, he was in Istanbul, Turkey, for the last-chance qualifier. If he didn't reach the championship match, he would not be wrestling in Rio.
"You'd be on the Olympic team but not an Olympian," Thielke said. "It would be awful. It would suck. It just sucks that that's even possible, to make the team and not get to compete in the Olympics."
In Turkey, Thielke displayed the talent, technique and heart that made him a phenom at the junior and Cadet levels and a rare four-time WIAA state champion.
He opened with a pair of decisive victories over 2012 Olympic medalists Peter Modos of Hungary and Revaz Lashki of Georgia and then pinned Sweden's Frunze Harutyunyan in the quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, he scored an impressive 17-8 technical fall over 2014 World University Games bronze medalist Donior Islamov of Moldova to reach the championship match and punch his ticket to Rio.
"The weight was lifted off my back," Thielke said. "I didn't have to worry about being an Olympian and not being able to wrestle in the Games. That would have stung."
Thielke lost the gold-medal match, 8-0, to six-time world champion and reigning Olympic champion Hamid Soryan of Iran, but he left Turkey having shown the world that he'll be a serious medal contender in August.
"I think the fact that he had to go through such a tough road gives him confidence," said Matt Lindland, head coach of the U.S. Greco-Roman team. "He beat world medalists and Olympic medalists and now he knows he's capable of beating those types of guys."
Thielke, 23, says he's just beginning his Greco-Roman career, which he interrupted with three mostly disappointing years at the University of Wisconsin. In folkstyle, the format used in college, wrestlers can attack any part of an opponent's body but in Greco-Roman they are restricted to only upper-body attacks.
"I can confirm that was definitely a mistake," Lindland said of Thielke's decision to wrestle in college. "It was absolutely a waste of time.
"It used to be that most of our team members came out of the folkstyle system. But everybody is getting better at an exponential rate. We've got to adjust with the time, and I think that's taking our best age-group athletes and getting them to focus on an Olympic style."
Wrestling at the elite level is one of the world's most demanding sports. Like all Olympians, including U.S. teammate Ben Provisor of Stevens Point (85 kilograms/187 pounds), Thielke lives a monkish lifestyle, training daily and cutting weight for tournaments.
"A normal life was never enough for me, anyway," he said. "This is my life."
He wants to wrestle for at least two more Olympic cycles.
"I don't have hair on my chest," he said. "I've barely got hair on my face. I've got a lot of years ahead of me in wrestling. I'm going to keep wrestling Greco and start my reign of domination as a world champion."