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Daniel Cormier Continues His Magic Carpet Ride

7/15/2004 10:51:00 AM

Former NCAA Runner-up Now Looking For Gold in Athens

By Ryan Teubner – Staff Writer

Daniel Cormier finished his collegiate career without a Division I national championship, but still with impressive credentials. He was a two-time NJCAA national champion at Colby CC in Kansas, and then transferred to Oklahoma State where he was the 2001 184 pound NCAA runner-up, losing to Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson in the final.

Like former Cowboys teammate, Gator Wrestling Club member and fellow U.S. Olympian Jamill Kelly, Cormier has gone on to bigger and better things since college. Cormier will represent the United States in Athens this year, competing in freestyle at 96kg/211.5 lbs. The Lafayette, La., native made the Olympic team after defeating Tim Hartung of the Minnesota Storm in the best-of-three series with a pin and an 8-0 win over the former University of Minnesota NCAA Champion.

As much as an honor as it is to make the team, Cormier still has some unfinished business.

"This is something we have worked for our entire lives," Cormier said. "Right after we make the team it is like a dream. Then after a while we have to get our mind back into training, realizing by making the team you didn’t accomplish everything you wanted to accomplish. This is just a step to the ultimate goal that is winning a gold medal."

Cormier, who was a three-time Louisiana state prep champion and an All-State football player, started to show he had what takes to become a top U.S. wrestler after his senior season at OSU. At the 2003 U.S. Nationals, he entered the tournament as the third seed and came out on top. During the tournament he only allowed one point against him as he cruised to his first nationals title. By winning the U.S. Nationals he received the automatic berth to the best-of-three series at the World Team Trials where he was scheduled to wrestle Dean Morrison. But prior to the trials a tragedy hit the Cormier family when his daughter was killed in a car accident.

The U.S. Olympic Committee granted Cormier an extension. The match-up with Cormier and Morrison would take place in Fargo, N.D., during the Junior National Championships. Morrison won the first match 4-1 in overtime, only to see Cormier tie the series at 1-1 after pinning Morrison in the second match.

In the third and final match, Cormier scored a takedown in overtime to defeat Morrison, 4-3, and secure his spot as the No. 1-ranked wrestler at his weight class in the United States.

This was the start of his magic carpet ride. Cormier got his start in wrestling in the Bayou of Louisiana. But growing up he really didn’t see any elite wrestlers because Louisiana wasn’t big into wrestling at the time.

However, as a youth it was at the Cadet World’s in Oklahoma when Cormier first realized what it meant to be a champion. Melvin Douglas was there working a camp and brought his video from the 1993 World Championships, where Douglas won it. A scrappy little wrestler at the time, Cormier remembers saying ‘man this guy is a world champ.’

That moment helped Cormier realize that in order to get to the elite level, he needs to put in the time, effort, and training to do just that – and that was all the motivation he needed. The journey to the Olympics took an unorthodox path – he doesn’t have the collegiate resume of someone like fellow Olympic teammate Sanderson, and won’t be remembered as one of the best collegiate wrestlers of all time. But that is not important now, because he is an Olympian, something only a select few can claim.

"I can’t really explain it because it is honestly a dream," he said. "It has been well documented that I didn’t achieve everything in college, but doing this has helped me build something that I can be remembered by after I am done wrestling."

Last year at the World Championships Cormier placed fifth, but the lessons he learned have helped him understand what it takes to succeed at the international level.

"At the World Championships I learned I can’t just go out there and wrestle," he said. "I need to be smart in my wrestling. In one match I made some mistakes to lose. I could have easily won that match. He was a really good wrestler and a champion, but it was more me that caused me to lose that match than him outwrestling me. I felt I let the singlet grabbing and a lot of other things get into my head instead of just wrestling."

Cormier heads to Athens ready to give it all, and no matter what happens, he wants to leave knowing he left it all out on the mat.

"Even if I don’t win the gold medal I want to look back and say I did as much as I could and put myself in a situation where I had a chance win a gold medal," Cormier said. "I trained hard enough and I did the right things. Like (Kerry) McCoy said, maybe the stars didn’t align to win that medal, but I did everything I possibly could have.”

“I’ve trained hard," he continued. "I’ve watched videos. I’ve done everything I possibly could have to (try and) win that medal. I am not done after this year. I plan on wrestling until 2008, so I want to be able to look back and say every time I did it, I gave it my all."

Cormier, Eric Guerrero and Kelly all have one thing in common, they all wrestled for Oklahoma State coach and Olympian John Smith. The six-time World Champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist has been coaching and training the three former Cowboys since they were in college.

"I think all three athletes have their differences but the bottom line is the same and that is obviously to get their hand raised," said Smith. "I think the good thing about all three of them is they become students of the sport. They have put themselves in this position because of their focus on becoming better. They share their ideas and all three of them have made a difference for each other. It has been good to watch. It hasn’t been a one-way street, it’s been more of three guys to accomplish the same thing."

2004-05 Team USA Ranking: No. 1 at 96 kg/211.5 lbs.

Years on Team USA: 4 (2001-05)

Residence: Stillwater, Okla.

Club: Gator WC

Coach: John Smith

College: Oklahoma State Univ., Colby CC

High School: Lafayette, La. (Northside)

Born: March 20, 1979 in Lafayette, La.

Height: 5-11

International Competition: Participated in 2004 Titan Games... 2004 Boutiatyr Grand Prix champion (Russia)... Fourth in 2004 Ivan Yarygin Memorial International (Russia)... Third in 2003 Ivan Yarygin Cup (Russia)... Fifth in 2003 World Championships... 2003 Pan American Games champion... 2001-03 Sunkist Kids International Open champion... 2002 Pan American Championships champion... Third in 2002 Dave Schultz Memorial International... 2001 Dave Schultz Memorial International champion... Third in 1995 Cadet World Championships (Greco-Roman)...

U.S. Competition: 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials champion... 2003-04 U.S. Nationals champion... Third in 2001 and 2002 World Team Trials... Seventh in 2001 U.S. National Championships... Second in 1997 Greco-Roman Junior Nationals... Fourth in 1997 Junior Nationals... Fourth in 1995 Cadet Nationals (freestyle and Greco-Roman)...

College: Attended Oklahoma State Univ. (1999-2001), where he was coached by John Smith... Second in 2001 NCAA championships... Earned a degree in Sociology... Also attended Colby Community College (1997-99), where he was coached by Steve Lampe... 1998 and 1999 Junior College National champion...

High School: Attended Northside High School... Three-time state champion... Suffered only two losses after his freshman year, both coming in injury defaults... Had a 101-9 record during his high school career... Also an All-State performer in football...

Personal: Son of Audrey Cormier and Percy Benoit... Brother of Joe, Ferral and Felicia... Wife’s name is Robin... Has one daughter, Kaedyn Imri Cormier (deceased)... Hobbies include reading, playing video games, basketball and softball...

Awards: Two-time Outstanding Wrestler at the Louisiana state tournament...

Notes: Became member of 2003 World Team after winning Special Wrestle-Off at 96 kg/211.5 lbs...

Source USA Wrestling

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