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Sunday, October 1
Americans were sitting in great shape

SYDNEY, Australia -- For two days, it wasn't a question of whether the United States would get a gold medal in Olympic freestyle wrestling, but how many. The answer turned out to be none.

Four years after winning three freestyle gold medals in Atlanta, the United States was shut out for the first time since Mexico City in 1968 following a quick succession of four defeats Sunday.

The setbacks, two in the semifinals, followed gold-medal match defeats Saturday by Sammie Henson and Brandon Slay, who took silver -- the only such medals the Americans will bring home.

Terry Brands and Lincoln McIlravy, former Iowa wrestlers, lost close decisions in the semifinals, but came back later for bronze medals. Kerry McCoy and Charles Burton lost tight matches in the quarterfinals for fifth place.

In 1996, Americans got three gold medals, a silver and a bronze in 10 freestyle weight classes. This time, they won two silvers and two bronzes in eight classes.

"They just weren't losses, they were unbelievably tough losses," U.S. co-coach Dan Gable said. "All of them down to the end, all of them close."

Brands beat Damir Zakhartdinov of Uzbekistan 3-2 at 127¾ pounds (58 kg) for his bronze, and McIlravy got his by beating Sergei Demchenko of Belarus 3-1 at 152 pounds (69 kg).

The American meltdown on the mat means the only U.S. wrestling gold medal in Sydney was arguably the least likely ever -- by Greco-Roman super heavyweight Rulon Gardner, who upset the seemingly unbeatable Alexander Karelin of Russia. Gardner celebrated by carrying the U.S. flag Sunday in the closing ceremonies.

McIlravy lost in the semifinals 6-3 in overtime to Daniel Igali, a Canadian who repeated his victory over the American in the 152-pound world finals last year. McIlravy tied it with a reversal at 5:39, but Igali won with a three-point throw at 8:14. Igali later won the gold medal.

"I don't have much of a comment," said co-coach Greg Strobel, reflecting the disappointment felt by a team that seemed on pace to at least match its 1996 output. "He got both of his hands up and Igali got right on him."

Brands, who came out of retirement to try to match the gold medal won by brother Tom Brands in Atlanta, lost 6-5 in the semifinals to Alireza Dabir of Iran at 127¾ pounds. Dabir led 5-0 with 2:11 gone and held on despite allowing three points in the final 46 seconds. Dabir also went on to win the gold medal.

The two had never wrestled, but Dabir accompanied an Iranian team to the United States two years ago specifically to watch Brands.

"He's been training for Brands for two years," Gable said.

Brands wrestled with a bandage on his left hand for an unspecified injury, and Dabair often targeted his moves to force Brands to use that hand extensively. Brands wasted considerable time trying to free up his hand.

McCoy, who beat world champion Stephen Neal in the U.S. trials, fell behind 8-3, rallied but still lost 8-7 to 21-year-old Artur Taymazov of Uzbekistan at 242.

The U.S. coaches protested a sequence in which they argued McCoy exposed Taymazov's back and should have gotten two points, but the protest was denied because the official videotape was accidentally erased.

The coaches found a tape and got the protest reopened, but it was denied again.

Burton was ahead 2-1 with 12 seconds left in his quarterfinal match with Mogamed Ibragimov of Moldova, seemed to relax, gave up a three-point throw and lost 4-2.

"We told him and told him not to touch the upper body," Gable said. "He waited until 10 seconds left to go in the match and got cocky. He stayed disciplined and stayed disciplined, but he broke his discipline and got beat."

Russia took two gold medals Sunday, with Adam Saitiev winning at 187¼ pounds (85 kg) and David Moussoulbes winning at 286 pounds (130 kg). Saitiev is the brother of four-time world champion Bouvaissa Saitiev, who was upset by Slay.

Abbas Jadidi, who lost the gold medal to Kurt Angle in 1996 on a referee's decision after a 1-all tie, wrestled a scoreless tie for the bronze at 286 pounds with Alexis Rodriguez of Cuba. Again, Jadidi, of Iran, lost the decision.


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