August 27, 2004 4:28 pm
Sanderson, two mates gain wrestling semis
ATHENS, Greece - U.S. freestyle wrestler Cael Sanderson wants to be a champion at the Olympics, not a tourist.
Sanderson won all three of his matches at 185 pounds on Friday to lead three of four American wrestlers into Saturday's semifinals at Ano Liossia Olympic Hall. American wrestlers were 10-1 overall, with only Kerry McCoy (264.5 pounds) failing to advance.
``You win, you're moving on,'' Sanderson said. ``If you don't, you're going to the Parthenon.''
Sanderson and the U.S. team pieced together a near-perfect opening day, outscoring opponents, 53-19.
McCoy, the 2003 world silver medalist, fell to Kazakhstan's Marid Mutalimov 4-1 in overtime. He was eliminated despite blanking his first two opponents by a combined 11-0.
Jamill Kelly (145.5) and Stephen Abas (121) joined Sanderson in the semifinals and will wrestle for a medal on Saturday.
Sanderson, the only undefeated, four-time champion in college history, beat Kazakhstan's Magomed Kurugliyev 4-2 and Siarhei Borchanka of Belarus 9-1 to reach the quarterfinals. It was there that Iranian Majid Khodaei pushed him to the brink of an Olympics exit.
Sanderson trailed the 2002 world bronze medalist 5-4 before scrambling for a tying takedown with 19 seconds left. In overtime, the Ames, Iowa, resident pounced for a winning takedown at the 14-second mark.
``I was having fun when I was out there, even when I was down,'' Sanderson said. ``It's been a few matches since I've felt like that.''
Sanderson showed rare emotion after the come-from-behind win, slapping his hands together once in a subdued, brief burst.
``I don't know what got into me,'' said Sanderson, with a small grin. ``That's a big match, I guess.''
Sanderson next faces Yoel Romero, Cuba's 1999 world champion and two-time world runner-up. Sanderson is 0-2 against Romero in his career.
Waiting on the other side of the bracket is Russia's Sazhid Sazhidov, who also has beaten Sanderson in their two matches - including last year's world final, 4-3.
``I'm 0 and 4 against those two,'' Sanderson said. ``I've got to get something going against those guys.''
Sazhidov outscored three wrestlers 32-2 on Friday, including a rare 17-0 thrashing against Senegal's Matar Sene.
In freestyle wrestling, a match can end as a technical fall when one wrestler secures a 10-point advantage. The wrestler in the lead has the option to continue wrestling through regulation but rarely does, since it could lead to injury or a pin.
U.S. assistant coach Bobby Douglas, Sanderson's former coach at Iowa State, said he doubted the Russian was trying to make a statement to the rest of the 185-pound field.
``Probably because he wanted to get a good workout,'' Douglas said.
The biggest American victory of the day belonged to Abas.
The former Fresno State star trailed 2002 world champ Rene Montero of Cuba 3-2 in the final 30 seconds.
Abas scored a takedown, then turned Montero for two points and a stunning 4-3 win.
``That was huge,'' said U.S. coach Kevin Jackson, a former Iowa State wrestler who won Olympic gold in 1992 and world golds in 1991 and `95. ``You don't turn too many world champs.
``I think that set the tone for the rest of the team.''
The physically imposing Jackson chest-bumped diminutive American assistant Zeke Jones in the most emotion-charged moment for the U.S. team.
``He almost knocked me on my butt,'' Jones said.
While impressed with the first-day showing, Jackson cautioned that the team had a similar performance in last year's world championships.
``We were in the same situation in New York, then things fell apart on us,'' Jackson said. ``So we're not getting too far ahead of ourselves.
``The first day means nothing. The second day is when the medals are won.''
Saturday's pool pairings
The final three U.S. freestyle wrestlers will begin competition on Saturday at Ano Liossia Olympic Hall in Athens. A wrestler must win round-robin pool matches to advance. Here are the pool groupings announced on Friday:
Eric Guerrero, 132 pounds
The three-time NCAA champion at Oklahoma State is paired with Georgia's David Pogosian, a 2000 Olympian who finished third in the world in 2001, along with Purevbaatar Oyunbileg - a two-time world silver medalist from Mongolia.
Joe Williams, 163 pounds
Williams, who won three NCAA titles at the University of Iowa, won a world championship bronze in 2001. He'll have to defeat Georgia's Gela Saghirashvili and Iran's Mehdi Hajizadehjoybari - the 2002 world champion - for a chance at a medal.
Daniel Cormier, 211.5 pounds
The third Oklahoma State product on the U.S. team opens with Austria's Radovan Valach - no top eight world-level finishes - before taking on Poland's Bartlomiej Bartnicki, seventh in the world a year ago.
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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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