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Metcalf, Varner Among Those to Watch at Olympic Wrestling Trials, Expert Says

Reporter Dan McCool, who has covered wrestling for nearly 30 years, give fans his picks for who to watch at the Olympic Trials in Iowa City this weekend. And you can meet McCool at the Trials' Fan Fest, where he's selling copies of his book," Reach for th

By DAN McCOOL

Iowa City likes to brag of its status among the elite communities in regards to being the hottest of wrestling’s hotbeds. This weekend, it’s THE place to be for anyone with a dream of wrestling — in either freestyle or Greco-Roman — at the 2012 Olympics in London.

The hometown University of Iowa wrestling team has won 23 of the 38 NCAA Division I team championships contested since 1975. The closest to that is Oklahoma State with seven.

However, college supremacy is not the nonpareil this weekend. Those big-dream wrestlers — and a record number of fans that could total 15,000 — come to Carver-Hawkeye Arena Saturday and Sunday for the Final Trials, a once-per-quadrennium competition.

Sessions are scheduled for 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day. There will be seven Olympic team members determined in Greco-Roman, six in freestyle (the United States has yet to qualify the 132-pound division for the Olympics) and four in women’s freestyle.

The local fans will be rooting for current and former Iowa standouts such as Matt McDonough, Mike Zadick, Brent Metcalf and Ryan Morningstar. Iowa State fans will be rooting for Jon Reader and twins Trent and Travis Paulson at 163 pounds and Dave Zabriskie at 264.5. Moza Fay of nearby Anamosa, an all-American at Northern Iowa, will also be competing at 163 pounds. There are some other individuals who will be in the spotlight this weekend. Here are some folks to watch:

JORDAN BURROUGHS, Lincoln, Neb., 163 pounds, freestyle — Burroughs, a two-time NCAA champion wrestler at Nebraska, won his weight in the 2011 World Championships and carries the tag of the country’s best gold medal hope. He needs two wins over the challenge tournament victor Saturday night in the best-of-three series to secure a trip to London.

CLARISSA CHUN, Colorado Springs, 105.5 pounds, women’s freestyle — The native of Hawaii competed in the 2008 Olympics and is favored to represent the United States in the 2012 tournament. She competes against the challenge tournament winner Sunday. Among those at her weight is Jessica Fresh of Knoxville.

BRENT METCALF, Iowa City, 145.5 pounds, freestyle — Everyone in town this weekend wants to win a gold medal in London this summer. Metcalf has already done that. The two-time NCAA champion won a championship in the Olympic Games Test Event in London in December. He is expected to be in the best-of-three challenge Sunday.

JUSTIN LESTER, Colorado Springs, 145.5 pounds, Greco-Roman — He was known as Harry Lester when he started his collegiate career at Iowa State. Before he put on a Cyclone singlet, Lester decided to forego the college style and work on Greco, a style that does not have scoring moves below the hips. Lester is two wins on Saturday from going to London.

HENRY CEJUDO, Colorado Springs, 121 pounds, freestyle — Cejudo won America’s most recent Olympic wrestling gold medal in 2008 - he’s the country’s youngest Olympic wrestling champion - but he’s not logged much mat time since then. Can he strike gold again? He’ll need to get through Sunday’s challenge tournament in order to have a chance to compete in the best-of-three series that night.

JAKE VARNER, State College, Pa., 211.5 pounds, freestyle — Varner was a two-time NCAA champion at Iowa State. Following his collegiate career, Varner followed Cael Sanderson to State College. Varner won a bronze medal in the 2011 World Championships and is considered the favorite at his weight Saturday.

TERVEL DLAGNEV, Columbus, Ohio, 264.5 pounds, freestyle — Dlagnev used to live in Cedar Falls. He and Les Sigman, a former Ames resident, have had some spirited matches and they might have another Sunday. Dlagnev was fifth in the 2011 World Championships, but during the event he beat two-time Olympic champion Artur Taymazov of Uzbekistan.

ALSO IN THE RUNNING: The weigh-in for Sunday’s competition will answer a hot question: Will 2000 Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner make weight to compete in the 264.5-pound division? Gardner has expressed a desire to compete in his third Olympics despite having to lose 200 pounds to do so.

TRY FOR FOUR: Dennis Hall of Stevens Point, Wis., is trying to become only the third United States wrestler to make his fourth Olympic team this weekend. Hall, 41, is scheduled to compete in the challenge tournament at 132 pounds in Greco-Roman on Sunday. Hall, a world champion in 1995 and an Olympic silver medalist in 1996, competed in the 1992, 1996 and 2004 Olympics. The only wrestlers to make the Olympic team four times are Bruce Baumgartner in freestyle (1984, 1988, 1992, 1996) and Mark Fuller (1980, 1984, 1988, 1992) in Greco-Roman.

“COACH” IN TOURNEY?: Andre Metzger of Norman, Okla., is listed among the qualifiers in Greco-Roman at 163 pounds. The big deal? Metzger is 52 years old. He is believed to be one of the oldest individuals to compete for a spot in the Olympics. Metzger competed in freestyle in five World Championships tournaments dating back to 1979 and he has three top-three finishes.

The guys working out with Metzger have given him the nickname "Coach.” In 1992, when former Iowa NCAA champion Chris Campbell was making the freestyle team, the then-37-year-old Campbell was given the moniker “Grandpa” by the wrestlers.

How long has Metzger been in wrestling? In the 1988 Olympic trials, he wrestled Nate Carr, a three-time NCAA champion at Iowa State and 1988 Olympic bronze medalist. During his recent comeback, Metzger wrestled Nate Carr Jr. in a tournament last December. 

Meet the Author

People can find ordering information about wrestling expert Dan McCool's book "Reach for the Stars: The Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament" at reachforthestars1921.com. Copies of the book are available for purchase between 1 and 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Asics Fan Fest in downtown Iowa City.

B.A. Morelli April 19, 2012 at 10:06 PM
And, is Metcalf as dominant in Olympic style as he was in college?
Dan McCool April 20, 2012 at 01:29 AM
no, just people to watch.....technically, the wrestler who has the bye to the best-of-three series should be considered the favorite because of the less wear and tear on his or her body, but these folks have a good shot of being on the London crew
Dan McCool April 20, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Metcalf can't be quite the same as he was in college - that swarming, swamping style that just overwhelmed opponents. Now he's got to be a little more of a game player and pick his spots because some of the moves he made in dominating in college can be scored against him in freestyle. Also, the international opponents know how to take advantage of a mistake, such as opening your offense too much, and turn that into points.
Deb Belt April 20, 2012 at 03:31 AM
Dan: Thanks so much for the preview to the trials. I'm rooting for Rulon and "The Coach."
Dan McCool April 20, 2012 at 03:51 AM
Rulon's sister either lives, or used to live, in WDM...great lady

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