Three Americans wrestled for Olympic gold medals Wednesday. Two won.
The one who settled for silver is the husband of a former women’s world champion who best summarized the spectrum of emotions that boiled over in the Georgia World Congress Center.
“In wrestling,” Patricia Saunders said after watching husband Townsend lose an overtime judges’ decision, “you get a couple of days of glory - maybe - in your whole career.”
This was a day glory was available.
That may explain the sobs of joy that overcame Kurt Angle, a protege of slain former world freestyle champion Dave Schultz, when Angle received the narrowest of judges’ decisions after a 1-1 overtime standoff against Iran’s Abbas Jadidi for the 220-pound title.
“I just let it go,” Angle said of the flood of tears. “I’ve waited for this moment all my life.”
It may explain the rhapsodic euphoria that enveloped Kendall Cross after he won the 125-1/2-pound gold, 5-3, over Giuva Sissouri, born in the Soviet state of Georgia but representing Canada.
It may explain Townsend Saunders’ benumbed disappointment after he and Russian Vadim Bogiyev wrestled through the regulation five minutes and three overtime minutes to a 1-1 deadlock the judges broke in Bogiyev’s favor. “I’m going home without what I came for,” he said.
It may even explain, but not excuse, the bitter protest and behavior of Jadidi, who went the extra mile to turn the U.S.-vs.-Iran 220-pound final into a good-vs.-evil morality play for a chanting, pro-U.S. crowd.
Jadidi stormed around the hall after the decision. He appealed to the judges. He appealed on his knees to the members of the International Olympic Committee. He pointedly delayed before stepping up to the silver-medal platform to the right and a step below Angle, who studiously avoided taking note of Jadidi’s display.
“I was upset because they took what was mine,” Jadidi said later in calm but pained tones. “I respect (Angle) as a human being, but not as an Olympic champion. I feel the gold medal hanging on his neck is mine.”
Angle, a 27-year-old with aspirations to act or model, refrained from ripping Jadidi for his surliness. He summarized the outcome simply.
“There aren’t two gold medals,” Angle said. “If there were, we’d both be on the top stand. It was an even match. But we both left it up to the officials, and when you do that, you can’t be upset about the decision. I was prepared to win. I thought I won. But if I didn’t, I would have shaken his hand.”
U.S. Coach Joe Seay, who has two-time Olympic gold medalist Bruce Baumgartner and four others in early-round action Thursday, said he didn’t know Angle had won “until they raised his hand.”
However, Seay explained, when points are tied, and the number of cautions or passivity warnings against each wrestler is the same, judges keep going down a checklist until they find a difference. He said he checked afterwards. “Kurt won on the basis of two more offensive attacks than Jadidi had,” Seay said.
The freestyle wrestling here has become a memorial to Schultz, shot to death by eccentric millionaire and wrestling benefactor John DuPont Jan. 26, 1996. Schultz’s widow, Nancy, has remained active in the sport through the Dave Schultz Wrestling Club, and she has been a particular booster of Angle’s, who wrestles under the Schultz banner.
“Dave was somebody I wanted to be,” Angle said. “I know he’s proud of me. I know Nancy is proud of me.” He nodded toward Schultz’s widow in the back of the interview room. “Love you, Nancy,” he said.
Wrestling wives share the sacrifices their husbands make. Cross, whose wife Rona recently received her law degree, spoke of the financial struggles in their past while she was in prelaw studies and he was pursuing the goal he achieved Wednesday.
“There were many times when we’d somehow find the money (to pay the bills) and high-five each other at the end of the month,” he said, laughing.
Their sacrifices paid a gold dividend when Cross attacked early and efficiently to get a 5-0 lead on Sissaouri and then countered Sissaouri’s late assault. “Just about everything he tried to set up, I was one second ahead of him,” said the 1989 NCAA champion at Oklahoma State.
Patricia Saunders, who wrestles at 103-1/2 pounds and looks more like a diver or gymnast than the 1992 world champion, admitted she receives more attention as Townsend’s wife than for her own mat exploits. She will bid for another world title in Bulgaria next month. But she won’t be training with her husband.
“They call him ‘Bam-Bam,”’ she said. “He doesn’t know his own strength. Every time he touches me, he hurts me. He’ll be showing me a technique, and I’ll be saying, ‘Careful! Careful! Careful!”’
Townsend Saunders, who has never placed higher than fourth in the world championships, made a late-overtime bid to gut-wrench Bogiyev and roll him to expose his shoulders to the mat. The technique he pulled off was worth a tying point at 1-1. Had he gotten his elbow down, Seay explained, it would have been worth three points and victory.
Patricia Saunders saw right away it was only a one-point maneuver. She knows. She’s a world champion.
Bogiyev’s emotions ran high, too. After his national anthem was played, he laid his gold medal on the platform and walked to the center mat. He reached inside his sweats to pull out the red and blue singlet uniforms in which he had wrestled. He took off his shoes. He threw them all in the center of the ring. He had retired.
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