U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program wrestler Sgt. Iris Smith (right) defeats Melissa Simmons of Gator Wrestling Club in the women's 72-kilogram challenge tournament finale to earn a berth in the finals of the 2011 U.S. World Team Trials on Friday at Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps, IMCOM Public Affairs
Three Soldiers earn berths in Wrestling World Championships
By Tim Hipps
Army Family and MWR Programs
OKLAHOMA CITY – Three U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program wrestlers earned berths in the FILA Wrestling World Championships and nine others made the national team in the 2011 U.S. World Team Trials on June 10-11 at Cox Convention Center.
Sgt. 1st Class Dremiel Byers earned a berth in the World Championships for the eighth time by defeating WCAP teammate Spc. Timothy Taylor in two straight matches during the best-of-three finals for the 120-kilogram/264.5-pound Greco-Roman crown.
Spc. Justin Lester made the national team for the fifth time with a two-match victory over WCAP teammate Staff Sgt. Glenn Garrison in the 66-kilogram/145.5-pound Greco-Roman division.
Spc. Spenser Mango earned his third trip to the World Championships by defeating Minnesota Storm’s Paul Tellgren in two matches for the 55-kilogram/121-pound Greco title.
Those three Soldiers will represent the Army on Team USA at the 2011 FILA Wrestling World Championships, scheduled for Sept. 12-18 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Byers, 36, a native of Kings Mountain, N.C., is the lone U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler who has won gold, silver and bronze medals at the World Championships.
“I just want to make sure I get the medals that nobody said I could get, and especially the one I promised my grandfather,” said Byers, who vowed to win an Olympic medal for his late grandfather, Theodore Byers, before he died. “Chase the medals, and the right one will come. That’s our philosophy with the Olympics.”
Olympic gold is the driving force behind Byers’ eighth appearance in the World Championships on the long road to London for the 2012 Olympic Games.
“Maybe it’s the stage,” he explained of the difference between a World and Olympic medal. “I’ve got my promise coating that medal, and the fact that the world is watching. It’s the one that has eluded me. I want to win a Grand Prix, I want to wrestle in Iran one time, and I want an Olympic gold medal – not necessarily in that order.”
Byers said he derives inspiration from younger Soldiers in the WCAP wrestling room to help him keep reinventing his game.
“I’ve been doing a little bit more on my feet and just getting more aggressive in parterre – going back to the basics of things that truly work, not holding back on either side and not waiting for a perfect lock – just firing,” Byers said. “You might even see some throws this year. It might be those young puppies in the room because they’re eager, and it carries over.
“I’m just fortunate to be a part of this program,” Byers added. “This program is a blessing in my life. To train and represent the United States Army on this level in this sport while the world is watching, I could never be happier.”
Although he’s already entertaining the idea of coaching, Byers refused to call this his final U.S. World Team.
“It’s a long road and I’ve enjoyed the scenery along the way. I’m having a lot of fun with these young guys on the team. They’ve sparked new life in me, I guess,” Byers said. “You never know. If they drag me kicking and screaming into the pasture, I guess I’ll have to go, but they’re going to have to push me first.”
Lester, 27, who won bronze medals at the 2006 and 2007 World Championships, took a year off from wrestling after competing at the 2009 Worlds. He returned to competition as a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program.
“I feel good, but I still feel like a step behind where I used to be,” Lester said after defeating 37-year-old Garrison. “I don’t know if that’s just taking that year off, being off the mat, or maybe age is starting to catch up because I have an explosive style. But I still feel like I can wrestle and feel like I can win a gold medal, so I feel good going into the World Championships.”
Lester can’t get over the patience and dedication of five-time U.S. World Team Trials runner-up Garrison.
“Glenn is a great teammate,” Lester said. “I’ve had very few teammates like him in my whole wrestling career. You need somebody to push you in the room, right? I push him. He pushes me. That’s what we do. And when we step on the mat, whoever wins, that’s how it goes.”
While Byers derives inspiration from younger WCAP teammates, Lester capitalizes on the work ethic of veteran Garrison, who battled through Friday’s challenge tournament to get a shot at reigning national champion Lester on Friday night.
“I don’t know how he does it,” said Lester, who is 10 years younger than Garrison. “I come into the room holding my back coming in, and he’s jumping all over the place. I don’t know if he put some voodoo hex on me or took 10 years from me or what, but he’s a great guy and a great teammate. He definitely pushes me.
“I love WCAP. I love everything the Army is about. It’s given me a great place to train and represent my country in that way and to give our troops overseas something to be proud about while they’re over there fighting. They can look to us and say we’ve got guys out there kicking butts on the mat and in other athletics. It definitely has given me something else to wrestle for so I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
“Iron sharpens iron,” WCAP wrestling head coach Shon Lewis added. “Your team is only as good as your room.”
Mango, 24, who finished eighth in the 2008 Olympic Games and ninth in the 2009 World Championships, struggled to reach the finals in Oklahoma City.
“Yeah, today was definitely one of my rougher days in a long time in the U.S. – just glad I was able to come out on top,” Mango said. “I just felt sluggish out there, but even on your worst days, you’ve still got to come out. You have to execute and find a way to make your stuff work.”
Nine other WCAP wrestlers were named to the 2011 U.S. National Team by virtue of their top-three finishes in Oklahoma City.
In a rematch of the 2011 U.S. Open Greco-Roman finals at 60 kilograms/132 pounds, two-time World Team member Spc. Jeremiah Davis lost in two periods to top-seeded Joe Betterman of the Sunkist Kids in a battle of former Northern Michigan University teammates.
“Even though Jeremiah came up short in the finals tonight, I’ll take that any day because he was scoring on his feet,” Lewis said. “He was getting after it. He’s got the talent to be on that team.”
Spc. John Lorenz defeated WCAP teammate Spc. Justin Millard at 96 kilograms/211.5 pounds to win the challenge tournament on Saturday.
“I knew that was going to be bittersweet no matter how it went because somebody was going to win and somebody was going to lose for the Army,” Lewis said.
Lorenz lost two straight matches in the Saturday night finals against 2005 World bronze medalist Justin Ruiz, a six-time U.S. World Team member.
Sgt. Iris Smith, 31, a 2005 World champion, lost the women’s 72-kilogram/158.5-pound freestyle finale to Gator Wrestling Club’s Ali Bernard, 25, who finished fifth at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
“Iris just didn’t pull the trigger,” Lewis said. “She’s not sticking to her game plan.”
Spc. Faruk Sahin, a two-time World Team member, finished third in the 66-kilo Greco class with a 1-0, 2-0 victory over NYAC’s Ben Sanchez.
Spc. Marco Lara defeated Donovan Depatto of the U.S. Marine Corps 3-0, 1-0 for third place in the 60-kilogram/132-pound Greco division.
“I’m excited for him,” Lewis said. “This is his first national team and we haven’t seen him at his best yet. He’s getting better every tournament.”
Spc. Jermaine Hodge took third place in the 55-kilogram/121-pound Greco division with a 3-0, 1-0 victory over Max Nowry of the New York Athletic Club.
“Unfortunately, Hodge lost his first bout, but he came back to crush everybody and take third in that weight class,” Lewis said.
Spc. Othella Lucas took third in the women’s 63-kilogram/138.75-pound freestyle division with a 3-0, 0-1, 1-0 victory over NYAC’s Veronica Carlson.
“I’m happy for her making her first national team,” Lewis said. “Because the women only have four weight classes [in the World Championships], she had either go up to 63 from 59 [kilos] or go down from 59 to 55. She chose to go up and she’s been working hard and lifting hard. She pushes herself.
“Othella made the national team so that lets you know she’s in the fight. She has a good chance of making the Olympic team.”
All in all, Lewis was encouraged by the Soldiers’ progress.
“We put 12 on the National Team, with some first-timers,” he said. “We put three on the World Team. We’re making progress as a group. I wish we could have put one or two more on there tonight, five would have been real nice, but we’re in the game.
“It’s not a wish list, it’s a do list.”