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Three Olympic medalists make U.S. team; Hall wins marathon classic; First U.S. women’s team set

5/24/2004 Gary Abbott/USA Wrestling

U.S. Olympic wrestling team determined in exciting finals; Three Olympic medalists make U.S. team; Hall wins marathon classic over Paulson; First U.S. women’s team set; Sanderson wins classic series

Three past Olympic medallists earned spots on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team by claiming the championship series at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Wrestling at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Ind., May 21-23.

The U.S. Olympic Team for wrestling will include 17 athletes (seven in men’s freestyle; six in men’s Greco-Roman and four in women’s freestyle). The team members won the best-of-three Championships series on Sunday in their weight divisions, which featured the 2004 U.S. Nationals champion against the winner of Saturday’s Challenge Tournament.

The past Olympic medallists on the 2004 U.S. team are all in men’s Greco-Roman: 2000 Olympic champion Rulon Gardner (Cascade, Colo./Sunkist Kids) at 120 kg/264.5 lbs., 1996 Olympic silver medallist Dennis Hall (Plover, Wis./Sunkist Kids) at 55 kg/121 lbs. and 2000 Olympic bronze medallist Garrett Lowney (Kaukauna, Wis./Minnesota Storm) at 96 kg/211.25 lbs.

Two other past Olympians qualified for their second straight U.S. Olympic teams: men’s freestyle wrestler Kerry McCoy (Bethlehem, Pa./New York AC) at 120 kg/264.5 lbs. and men’s Greco-Roman wrestler Jim Gruenwald (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) at 60 kg/132 lbs.

The first U.S. Olympic team for women’s freestyle wrestling was determined, with four women athletes claiming their Olympic weight divisions. Three of the athletes are past World silver medalists, while the fourth will be competing for the U.S. for the first time on the Senior level.

The championship match at Greco-Roman wrestling at 55 kg/121 lbs., won by Hall, was one of the most dramatic matches in recent Olympic wrestling history. His opponent was 1996 Olympic silver medalist Brandon Paulson.

Hall won the first match of the series, and Paulson won the second. The third and deciding match was tied at the conclusion of overtime at 3-3, and with all criteria equal, the match went into an unlimited sudden death overtime. Hall won the match with a takedown going out of bounds at the 16:54 mark, winning 4-3, one of the longest wrestling matches in U.S. history and certainly one of the most memorable.

Hall and Paulson were teammates at the Atlanta Olympics in different weight classes. They are good friends and regular training partners. Hall dropped in weight for a chance to make his third U.S. Olympic team, as he was also on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team.

Gardner battled his archrival and friend, 2002 World Champion Dremiel Byers (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army) in the finals. Gardner won the series in two straight matches, both by 2-1 overtime referee decisions. Gardner avenged a loss to Byers in the finals of the U.S. Nationals in Las Vegas in April.

Gardner became a World hero at the 2000 Olympics, when he beat three-time Olympic champion and previously undefeated Alexander Kareline of Russia in the gold-medal finals. He followed that up with a gold medal at the 2001 World Championships. He has returned to wrestling after suffering from frostbite and having a toe amputated after a snowmobile accident in February 2002.

Lowney returns to the Olympics after a tough battle from injury as well, suffering a neck injury a year ago that forced him to miss the World Championships and threatened his career. He defeated Justin Ruiz (Salt Lake City, Utah/New York AC), in two straight bouts, a 1-1 overtime referee’s decision and a 2-0 overtime referee’s decision,. Ruiz had defeated Lowney in U.S. Nationals finals this year.

McCoy placed fifth at the 2000 Olympic Games, and earned the right to return to win a medal. He won his series in two straight matches, defeating Tolly Thompson (Cedar Falls, Iowa/Sunkist Kids), 5-3 and 8-0.

Gruenwald placed sixth at the 2000 Olympic Games, and will also attempt to win his first Olympic medal. He also swept his series in two straight bouts, beating Joe Warren (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC), 5-3 and 3-0.

The first U.S. Olympic team for women’s freestyle will feature Patricia Miranda (Colorado Springs, Colo./Dave Schultz WC) at 48 kg/105.5 lbs., Tela O’Donnell (Colorado Springs, Colo./Dave Schultz WC) at 55 kg/121 lbs., Sara McMann (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) at 63 kg/138.75 lbs. and Toccara Montgomery (Cleveland, Ohio/New York AC) at 72 kg/158.5 lbs.

Three of the team members are past World silver medallists: Miranda (twice), McMann and Montgomery (twice). O’Donnell made her first U.S. Senior team with her victory.

Montgomery defeated two-time World champion and seven-time World medalist Kristie Marano (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC), 9-6 in overtime and 4-3. Marano was a 2004 U.S. Nationals champion at 63 kg, but missed weight on Thursday.

O’Donnell was the only one of the four women Olympians who was not a 2004 U.S. Nationals champion. O’Donnell upset two-time World silver medalist Tina George (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army) in two straight matches, both by pin, in 5:57 and 4:12.

Miranda won her series in two straight, beating Clarissa Chun (Colorado Springs, Colo./Gator WC), 6-3 and by technical fall 10-0. McMann scored a pair of technical falls over Alaina Berube (Escanaba, Mich./New York AC), 10-0 and 15-2.

One of the most anticipated series in men’s freestyle wrestling went a full three bouts, as 2003 World silver medalist Cael Sanderson (Ames, Iowa/Sunkist Kids) claimed the Olympic team spot at 84 kg/185 lbs. Sanderson became a public figure when he became the first wrestler to win four NCAA titles and complete his career undefeated.

Sanderson was upset at the 2003 U.S. Nationals by Lee Fullhart (Colorado Springs, Colo./Gator WC), and had to come through the Challenge Tournament to earn another shot at Fullhart.

In the first match, Sanderson beat Fullhart, 3-1, but Fullhart came back to take bout No. 2 in a 2-2 overtime referee’s decision. In the deciding third match, Sanderson stopped Fullhart, 4-1.

SUMMARIES OF OTHER CHAMPIONS

In men’s freestyle, three former Oklahoma State wrestlers qualified for their first U.S. Olympic team: Eric Guerrero (Stillwater, Okla./Gator WC) at 60 kg/132 lbs., Jamill Kelly (Stillwater, Okla./Gator WC) at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. and Daniel Cormier (Stillwater, Okla./Gator WC) at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. All three were U.S. Nationals champions this year.

Guerrero won his series in two straight matches, beating Mike Zadick (Iowa City, Iowa (Hawkeye WC), 3-1 and 5-2.

Cormier also swept his finals series. He pinned Tim Hartung (St. Paul, Minn./Minnesota Storm), in 4:47 in the first bout, then won the second match by a 7-0 margin.

Kelly needed three matches to win his finals series against unheralded Jared Lawrence (Minneapolis, Minn./Minnesota Storm). Kelly won the first bout 4-1 in overtime, but Lawrence came back to win the second match with a 2-1 referee’s decision. Kelly controlled the third match, winning 5-1.

The other first-time Olympian is the champion at 74 kg/163 lbs.. Joe Williams (Iowa City, Iowa/Sunkist Kids), who beat Joe Heskett (Grover Beach, Calif./Gator WC), 4-0 and 5-2. Williams was a 2001 World bronze medalist.

Claiming the other two Olympic team spots in men’s Greco-Roman were Oscar Wood, Fountain, Colo. (U.S. Army) at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. and Brad Vering (Colorado Springs, Colo./ New York AC) at 84 kg/185 lbs. Both will be competing in their first Olympics.

Wood won in two straight bouts, stopping 2000 Olympian Kevin Bracken by pin in 1:47 and by a 3-0 margin. Wood, who was second at the U.S. Nationals, moved to the top position in the Olympic Trials after national champion Faruk Sahin accepted a provisional suspension from USADA for a positive doping test.

Vering, who has been fifth at the last two World Championships, won a pair of matches over Jake Clark (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Marine Corps), 5-1 and 3-1 in overtime.

The U.S. did not qualify to compete in the Olympic Games at 74 kg/163 lbs. The division was held, to determine the U.S. National team for next year. Capturing the title was Keith Sieracki (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army), who needed three bouts to defeat 2003 U.S. Nationals champion Darryl Christian (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC). In the deciding third bout, Sieracki won the overtime clinch for a 3-2 win at 6:15.

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