August 23, 2004 5:28 pm
McMann narrowly beaten for wrestling gold
ATHENS, Greece — The moment ended in silver and sobs for Sara McMann, but United States coach Terry Steiner and those connected with the Olympic debut of women’s freestyle wrestling hope the sport’s future is pure gold.
Japan’s Kaori Icho scored three unanswered points on Monday — the last with 22 seconds left — to stop McMann 3-2 in the 138.5-pound gold medal match at Ano Liossia Olympic Hall.
The meeting was a rematch of the 2003 world finals, when Icho won 4-3 in overtime.
"I did everything I could," McMann said through sweat-soaked sobs. "I worked as hard as I could — it just wasn’t good enough."
The United States grabbed two medals in the only new sport at the 2004 Olympics.
Patricia Miranda rebounded from a semifinal loss at 105.5 to win bronze, stopping France’s Angelique Berthenet, 12-4.
The night, though, was as much about breaking barriers as breaking down opponents.
Steiner, a former NCAA champion at the University of Iowa and one-time assistant men’s coach at Oregon State, said the women competing at four weight classes in the male-dominated sport should change mainstream perceptions.
"There’s no doubt about it that women do belong on the wrestling mat," Steiner said.
The significance to the sport was difficult to soak up for McMann, a graduate of McDowell High School in Marion, N.C.
McMann recorded a 50-second pin against Stavroula Zygouri of Greece in the semifinals.
But when a two-point lead in the gold-medal match evaporated in the final minutes, she struggled to make sense of the loss.
Five years ago, McMann dealt with a loss of an infinitely greater magnitude when her brother, Jason, was murdered while a student at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania.
The trial for one of the suspected killers, captured through the TV show "America’s Most Wanted," is set to begin shortly after the Olympics.
"Time eased the pain of that — it was five years ago," said McMann, 23. "But it only comforts me to know my brother would be proud of me, either way."
McMann led Icho 2-0 and appeared poised to add to her lead when the three judges huddled to look at videotape, then decided not to add points for the American.
"We train those situations," Steiner said. "We do that stuff in practice where maybe something’s questionable, and we give them the wrong call, just to test them on that. They’ve been through that before.
"She handled it well. It didn’t bother her that much. She got right back to wrestling."
Miranda fell to Irini Merleni of the Ukraine, 9-0, in the semifinals. When she won her bronze-medal match, she became first woman wrestler in history to have an Olympic medal placed around her neck.
Steiner said he expects the bulk of the first U.S. women’s team — which also included sixth-place finishes by Toccara Montgomery (158.5 pounds) and Tela O’Donnell (121) — to return.
He plans to be back, as well.
"I’m happy with what I’m doing," Steiner said. "We need to get some gold medals one of these years, so I’m going to keep plugging away."
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COMMENTARY AND PERSPECTIVE
MIKE LOPRESTI | Gannett News Service
IAN O'CONNOR | The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News
CHRISTINE BRENNAN | USA TODAY
DAN BICKLEY | The Arizona Republic
LYNN HENNING | The Detroit News
BOB KRAVITZ | The Indianapolis Star
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