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Sam Henson Reaches Olympic Wrestling Final

Sept. 29, 2000


SYDNEY, Australia (AP) – Sammie Henson told his peewee wrestling coach 20 years ago he would be an Olympic champion. One more victory, and he will be.

Brandon Slay told himself after beating the man considered the world’s best freestyle wrestler that there was no reason he shouldn’t be an Olympic champion. One more victory, and he will be.

Henson and Slay completed a perfect day for U.S. wrestlers, each winning twice Friday to move into gold-medal matches Saturday. Among them, the six U.S. wrestlers were 8-0.

Henson held up an index finger after pinning German Kontoev of Belarus in the 119-pound (54 kg) semifinals. Why? “Because there’s one more to go and I’m going to get it,” he said.

Of course, opponent Namig Abdullayev of Azerbaijan said the same thing, explaining, “I have to have a rest first. After that, I will win the gold.”

Earlier, Henson the 1998 world champion fell behind Oleksandr Zakharuk of Ukraine 4-0 before rallying to win 8-4. He later said he wasn’t scared, but was sure his father was.

“I’m always nervous,” said Robert Henson of St. Charles, Mo., who is on heart medication and under orders not to become overly excited during his son’s matches. “But, even though he doesn’t show it, I’m sure he’s very nervous, too.

“But he’s always done what he said he could do. When he was 8, he said he would be a high school state champion, an NCAA champion, a world champion and an Olympic champion. He’s always been a little headstrong like his mother and I think that’s helped him get to where he is.”

The elder Henson said he won’t be nervous Saturday because “at least he’s got a silver medal.”

“But I’m only thinking about the gold medal,” said Sammie Henson, 29, a two-time NCAA champion at Clemson. “I’m going to get it. I don’t care who I have to wrestle. I’m thinking gold.”

Slay allowed himself to enjoy Thursday’s upset of four-time world champion Bouvaissa Saitiev, the Russian who was the big favorite at 167 1/2 pounds (76 kg). But only for a few hours.

Slay came back to win two close matches Friday, a referee’s decision over Gennadi Laliyev of Kazakstan after the two tied 2-2, and a 3-1 victory over Adam Bereket of Turkey.

“I watched video of all these guys and I knew I could beat them,” said Slay, 25, of Amarillo, Texas. “I knew the Turk wasn’t good on his feet, and I didn’t have to worry about him coming at me, and that relieves a lot of stress on a wrestler.”

The decision was protested by Turkey, but was not upheld. The day before, three-time world medalist Cary Kolat had to re-wrestle an Iranian wrestler he had already beaten. Kolat lost, causing his elimination.

Slay meets Alexander Leipold, who pinned Eui-jae Moon of South Korea while trailing 1-0 with 10 seconds left in overtime. Leipold, of Germany, was a 1994 world champion and is a five-time world medalist.

“But I know I can beat him,” said Slay, who, like Greco-Roman bronze medalist Garrett Lowney, is wrestling in his first major international competition.

And, just like Lowney, Slay beat an overwhelming favorite from Russia in Lowney’s case, five-time world champion Gogui Koguachvili.

Terry Brands, the brother of 1996 gold medalist Tom Brands, made his Olympic debut by winning 6-0 over Abil Ibragimov of Kazakstan at 127 3/4 pounds (58 kg).

Brands, 32, retired briefly after losing to eventual Olympic champion Kendall Cross in the U.S. trials. He unexpectedly came out of retirement just before the trials, mostly because it was his last chance to match his brother’s gold medal.

“I’m ready, no doubt,” said Brands, a former NCAA champion at Iowa. “I’ve been like a caged animal for five days.”

Asked if brother Tom was in attendance, Brands said, “There’s been a sighting.”

Lincoln McIlravy, also a former NCAA champion at Iowa who was second in last year’s world championships at 152 pounds (69 kg), won by injury default over Ibo Oziti of Nigeria.

Two wrestlers who upset world champions in the U.S. trials also won.

Kerry McCoy, who had to beat 1999 world freestyle wrestler of the year Stephen Neal just to get to the Olympics, won 3-0 in overtime over Merabi Valiev of Ukraine at heavyweight.

Charles Burton, who surprised former world champion Les Gutches in the U.S. trials, won 4-0 over Alioune Diouf of Senegal at 187 1/4 pounds (85 kg).

Brands, McIlravy, McCoy and Burton wrestle again Saturday. Only Kolat and 213 3/4-pounder Melvin Douglas, who lost twice Thursday, remain in medal contention.

In 1996, the U.S. freestyle team won three gold medals among its five medals.