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U.S. Nationals preview at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. in men's freestyle wrestling

4/6/2004 Gary Abbott/USA Wrestling

Heading into the Olympic year, Daniel Cormier is the No. 1 man in a crowded division. Cormier was fifth in the 2003 World Championships and won a gold at the Pan American Games. He can win matches with big throws, or by competing with the basics. He is fun to watch, and seems to have a real feel for the international style. Cormier has only wrestled against foreign athletes this year, dropping a bout by default to a U.S. rival in Russia because he wanted to have the battle back here in the States. He did win one international event, the new tournament held in Ulan Ude, Siberia, Russia.

Cormier overcame a tremendous hardship last year, when his infant child was killed in an automobile mishap a few days prior to the World Team Trials. He received an extension on the finals series, then edged World Team Trials champion Dean Morrison in a full three match series. Cormier is aware that there is great talent in this weight right here in the USA and he will need to be his best to hold them off.

Morrison has really come into his own since moving up in weight from 185 pounds and then making the move to the U.S. Olympic Training Center. He is a veteran in terms of age and this will most probably be his most serious opportunity to make an Olympic team. Morrison is strong and has great balance and technical skills. He has split a pair of matches with No. 3 Tim Hartung this season, beating him in New York City at the NYAC event but losing to him on his home mats at the Dave Schultz in Colorado Springs. Morrison does not give up many points, which makes him very good in a big tournament such at the U.S. Nationals in Las Vegas.

Tim Hartung, a 2002 World Team member, has a win over Morrison this year and has the international experience to reclaim his top spot here. Like Morrison, he moved to this division a a few seasons ago and has truly thrived. The decision to skip the 2002 World Championships in Iran cost him a chance to test himself at the World level. Hartung has had an edge over most of the Americans in recent seasons, putting himself at the level where Cormier and Morrison have reached. He needs to reach the finals in Las Vegas to make up for last season and re-establish himself as the favorite here.

The intriguing athlete competing this year is 1993 World Champion and two-time Olympian Melvin Douglas, who has made a comeback at 40 years old. Douglas has won four World medals, has more experience than anybody and retains his explosive quickness and tough defense. He wrestled at heavyweight in his first tournament back, and almost beat young talent Steve Mocco. He has lost a few matches this winter, falling to Dawid Rechul in the New York AC event and Jon Trenge at the Central Regionals. This is all part of Douglas getting rid of the mat rust from three years on the sidelines. Anybody who takes Douglas lightly in Las Vegas is making a big mistake. This is a champion, who has not lost much over time. A good performance in Las Vegas will set him up for a real chance at a third Olympic team.

Dominic Black, a past U.S. World Team member and runner-up to Douglas in the 2000 Olympic Trials, is also capable of great things at this division. He has seemed a little bit off the last couple of years, and missed part of a season for officer training. Black nailed down a spot in the Olympic qualifier by winning a Regional at heavyweight. A win over a top name athlete at the U.S. Nationals would give him the confidence for a true run at an Olympic berth.

Chad Lamer has been as high as No. 2 in this weight in recent years, but has seemed to slip a bit in the last year. He has already nailed down his Olympic Trials berth through a Regional event. Lamer is big and strong and has experience. He will need to put things together now, or could get lost in this deep field.

Taking a redshirt year from college is Jon Trenge, who has been a Junior World team member in freestyle and has the talent to compete with anybody at this division. He will return to Lehigh next year to seek an NCAA title that has just eluded him. His spot in Indianapolis is already secured through the Regional route. Trenge has been a fulltime resident athlete, expanding his skills tremendously. Because of his eye problem, this could be his best chance at a try for the Olympics. He is making the most of this opportunity and can not be overlooked.

Tommy Rowlands, who has competed at heavyweight in college, came down to this division last year but did not place in the top six at the World Team Trials. That was probably more about his ankle injury than his drop in weight. He won his second NCAA title this year, even though he remained lighter than all of his opponents. A past Junior World medalist, he has strong freestyle skills. Rowlands also has something to prove to those who question his decision to drop to this division or have overlooked his abilities in freestyle.

Wes Hand is making a charge at this division and is capable of knocking off anyone. He was second in the Sunkist Kids International and captured a gold medal at the Manitoba Open in Canada, a good indication that he is ready this season. Dawid Rechul has quickly developed into a freestyle talent. His losses this year are to Hartung and Trenge, but he also has some solid wins over ither top Americans. Rechul has refined his skills at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

Veteran Ryan Tobin is always a tough match, and can challenge at any time. Trenge has beaten him twice here, but Tobin also seems to wrestle well when the U.S. Nationals and World Team Trials come around. Zach Thompson, a former Junior World silver medalist, is always a tough competitor, and should be still around during the All-American rounds.

People can’t wait to see the return of Damion Hahn to the freestyle circuit, especially since he moved up in weight. He was winning big matches in freestyle while still in high school. His two NCAA titles for Minnesota show that he has also mastered folkstyle. Can Damion Hahn hang with the big, strong and talented athletes at this division, and will his time away from freestyle be a problem? Nobody knows, but fans are certainly looking forward to his answers to these questions.

Carlos Eason, who was a college star at Cornell but has not been a freestyler much in the past, has already secured a spot in the Olympic Trials by winning a Regional event. Franklin Lashley is a threat here, but has not wrestled at all this season. Mark Munoz, a former NCAA star who has placed high on the freestyle circuit (and also has a Junior World medal) is back on the mats and going for it this season. Raphael Davis has proven to be a solid competitor at this weight class, capable of beating good opponents. Nate Patrick has wrestled well here, but seems to be dropping to 85 kg.

This weight class will be a war between three top challengers, Daniel Cormier, Dean Morrison and Tim Hartung. Right? But wait, what about old man Melvin Douglas, the best wrestler in the nation for the last two Olympic cycles? And what about college stars Jon Trenge and Tommy Rowlands? And hasn’t that Wes Hand done very well in his run for glory this year? Suddenly, the picture here is a bit more clouded, meaning the action in Las Vegas can only be intense and perhaps surprising. Stay tuned....

THEMAT.COM RANKINGS FOR APRIL 2004

96 KG/211.5 LBS. IN MEN'S FREESTYLE WRESTLING

1. Daniel Cormier, Stillwater, Okla. (Gator WC)

2. Dean Morrison, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC)

3. Tim Hartung, St. Paul, Minn. (Minnesota Storm)

4. Dominic Black, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army)

5. Melvin Douglas, Phoenix, Ariz. (Sunkist Kids)

6. Wes Hand, Blacksburg, Va. (Sunkist Kids)

7. Jon Trenge, Bethlehem, Pa. (New York AC)

8. Ryan Tobin, Philadelphia, Pa. (Dave Schultz WC)

9. Tommy Rowlands, Columbus, Ohio (Dave Schultz WC)

10. Zach Thompson, Ames, Iowa (Sunkist Kids)

ATHLETES ALREADY QUALIFIED FOR THE OLYMPIC TEAM TRIALS

West Regional Trials Champion - Chad Lamer, Iowa City, Iowa (Hawkeye WC)

North Regional Trials Champion -Carlos Eason, Chesapeake, Va.(unattached)

Central Regional Trials Champion -Jon Trenge, Bethlehem, Pa. (New York AC)

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