Chael Sonnen is not an Olympic Alternate.
Sonnen was, and is, a fantastic Greco-Roman wrestler; no doubt exists to that point. He won two national championships and a world silver medal in Greco on the university level. Nobody talks about it, but Chael also achieved respectable honors in freestlye wrestling, placing as high as second in the country on the university level. Additionally, while wrestling for the University of Oregon, Chael placed eighth in the national tournament, earning himself NCAA All-American status.
He accomplished a great deal in the sport of wrestling, and deserves credit as one of the most decorated amateur wrestlers in UFC history. However, despite what his UFC profile states, and what various media outlets report, Sonnen is definitely not an Olympic alternate.
The first problem with calling Sonnen an Olympic alternate lies in the fact that no such thing exists. The United States Olympic Comittee and USA Wrestling, the governing body for the American Olympic Wrestling Team, neither recognize nor make any official declaration of alternate status.
Mitch Hull, National Teams Director for USA Wrestling, clarifies USA Wrestling's position on Olympic alternates as follows (note that Mitch once finished second at the Olympic Team Trials):
"The position of the USOC is the Olympics do not have alternates. You are either an Olympian or you are not. The term alternate has been developed outside of the USOC, likely by a lot of us who did not make the team to make us feel better!!"
So there you go, the term "Olympic alternate" was made up by people without the approval of the only organization which has the proper authority to confer or not confer alternate status.
Instead of "Olympic alternate", we ought to use the term "Olympic Team Trials Runner-up". This gives an accurate accounting of the placement of the wrestler in question relative to the person who actually made the Olympic team. This should be what people actually mean when they say "Olympic alternate" anyways; alternate means the second choice.
This presents the second problem with calling Sonnen an "Olympic alternate". Sonnen did not finish second in an Olympic Team Trials in Greco-Roman wrestling. In 2000, when he did compete at the Trials, he finished in fourth place. Take a look at the final results from the 2000 Greco-Roman Olympic Team Trials Challenge Tournament at 187.25 pounds.
187.25 - Third: Chael Sonnen, Tualatin, Ore. (Dave Schultz WC ) won by inj. dft. over Dan Henderson, Gresham,Ore. (Dave Schultz WC);
Fifth - Aaron Sieracki, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force) pin William Carr, Columbia Heights, Minn. (Minnesota Storm), 1:57.
The way the 2000 Trials worked, the Challenge Tournament winner would face the U.S. Open champion in a best of three wrestle-off. The winner of the best of three became an Olympian, the loser became the runner-up. Sonnen placed third at the Challenge tournament, which means the U.S. Open champ and two Challenge Tournament finalists placed ahead of him, leaving Sonnen as the fourth place finisher at the 2000 Olympic Trials.
So, to sum up, yes Sonnen did great things as an amateur wrestler and should have been viewed as a genuine Olympic hopeful, but no, he was not an Olympic alternate. Olympic alternates do not really exist, and even if they did, then Sonnen would not have been one.