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Durlacher focused on World and Olympic Gold after winning Bronze Medal at 2006 World Championships



COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Lindsey Durlacher stood at the bottom of a snowy hill, shaking his head in disbelief.

Momir Petkovic, USA Wrestling's Assistant National Greco-Roman Coach, had brought his wrestlers out into the elements to run up the workout trail in Colorado Springs known as The Incline.

But Durlacher didn't want any part of it.

"It was a blizzard out there - we already had two feet of snow on the ground and the snow was still coming down," Durlacher recalled from a workout last year. "I told Momir, 'I'm not doing it,' and he said, 'Yes, you will.' There was a little bit of an argument and then I did it."

Durlacher and Petkovic have butted heads plenty, but over the past year Durlacher has started buying into what the 1976 Olympic Gold Medalist from the former Yugoslavia has been preaching to him.

Their improved relationship paid off in a big way when Durlacher captured a Bronze Medal at the World Championships last month in Guangzhou, China. Competing on his second straight World Team, the 32-year-old Durlacher was hitting on all cylinders in China.

"I think I've matured a lot as I've gotten a little older," Durlacher said. "I was kind of hard-headed and used to doing things a certain way. I finally realized I could start reaching some of my goals if I did what the coaches were telling me to do."

Petkovic said he always knew Durlacher was "a World Championship contender."

"He's always tried to do things his way and wasn't reaching his potential," Petkovic said. "He questioned a lot of what we were telling him. He finally realized he needed to listen to his coaches. He's really matured and grown up a lot. He now understands the type of commitment and work ethic you need to become a World Champion. He is very physically gifted. He can beat anybody in the World if he's focused and mentally ready to compete. He showed that in China."

USA Wrestling National Greco-Roman Coach Steve Fraser also noticed the changes Durlacher has made.

"Lindsey worked very hard this year," Fraser said. "We were at the Romanian Tournament in August and he was in a very tough match that required him to really dig down deep to score. He did just that, and it seemed from that match forward he had the added 'grit' that it takes to win.

"He wrestled with a great sense of determination and confidence at the World Championships. He is one of the strongest wrestlers in the World at his weight class."

The only match Durlacher lost at 55 kg/121 pounds at the Worlds came in a controversial 5-3, 3-2 semifinal loss to defending champion and eventual 2006 Gold Medalist Hamid Sourian of Iran. Durlacher appeared to execute a lift worth three points in the second period, but was given only a point by officials. The match was stopped and the sequence was reviewed on videotape for more than a minute by officials.

"That was real frustrating when they made that call," he said. "There are a lot of politics involved in this sport. You never know what is going on behind the scenes. I felt like it was a blatant political move that influenced the call. It was a bad call, I'm convinced of that."

Durlacher said it took a while to make the transition from folkstyle to Greco-Roman, but all the hard work has been worth it.

"Greco-Roman fits my stature well," the 5-foot-3 Durlacher said. "I'm short and stocky, and I've done a lot of strength training. I could always manipulate guys more with my strength than being more of a technical wrestler. My college coach, Mark Johnson, was a professional bodybuilder and he was real big on strength training. We did a lot of weight training when I was in college at Illinois."

Durlacher also has devoted more time to the mental aspect of the sport, studying an abundance of video of his opponents prior to the 2006 Worlds.

"I studied a lot more video this year - that was the No. 1 thing I did differently," Durlacher said. "I paid attention to every little detail of what my opponents were doing. I took notes, and was prepared for whatever little tricks and tactics they were going to throw at me. Our coaches observed the European Championships and we had videotape we studied from that. We were very prepared for the Worlds, no doubt about that."

Durlacher (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) didn't place at his first World meet in 2005. But the experience of that competition paid off a year later.

"That was huge for me - it was a very big deal to have that experience," he said. "When you make the World Team for the first time you have a feeling you've accomplished a lot already and you're just happy to be part of the team. But this year I was ready to win a gold medal. I thought I could win the whole thing."

Durlacher was part of a U.S. Greco-Roman team that placed third, tying for the best finish in American history. Durlacher's friend and training partner, Joe Warren, won a Gold Medal at 60 kg/132 pounds while Harry Lester won a Bronze Medal at 66 kg/145.5 pounds. All three medals came on the first day, giving the U.S. team the lead. The Americans narrowly fell short of winning the team title.

"Obviously, we wrestled well as a team and wanted to win the team title," Durlacher said. "We still wrestled well for the most part and turned some heads with our performance. But we should've won the tournament."

Warren said he knew Durlacher had the potential to win a World medal.

"I think it was just a matter of Lindsey believing in himself," Warren said. "He is very skilled and one of the strongest people I've wrestled. He can be a World and Olympic champion, I don't have any doubt. He can do anything he puts his mind to."

Durlacher said the ultra-confident Warren had a positive effect on him.

"Joe's a very confident guy and he was ready to win this tournament," Durlacher said. "He kept telling me I was going to win it and I was kind of feeding off his confidence. We've been battling each other since our college days when he was at Michigan and I was at Illinois. We still push each other quite a bit."

Durlacher said winning a medal gives him "a huge boost."

"It's great to finally get a reward for all the hard work you put in," Durlacher said. "And having guys like (Olympic gold medalists) John Smith and Kevin Jackson congratulate me, that means a lot to me. But I'm by no means satisfied. I won't be until I win a gold medal."

Just staying on top in the U.S. will be a challenge for Durlacher. Twenty-year-old Spenser Mango, who finished second to Durlacher at the 2006 U.S. Nationals, won a World University Championships Gold Medal and a Junior World Championships Bronze Medal this year at 55 kilos. Sam Hazewinkel, second to Durlacher at the U.S. World Team Trials, also is in the mix.

"There really is no room for slacking off at all," he said. "Mango won two World medals this summer. These young guys are tough."

Durlacher helped coach wrestlers from the New York AC during the Sunkist Kids/ASU International Open last weekend in Tempe, Ariz. He then stuck around a couple extra days so he and a couple buddies could watch his beloved Chicago Bears rally to beat the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night.

"I just saw the greatest comeback in NFL history - it was unbelievable," said Durlacher, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs. "I've been going to Soldier Field since I was a little kid. I was doing a Willie Gault touchdown dance all day, getting ready for the game. He used to put his finger in the air and do like a Charleston dance where he swings his knees around.

"I think this is their year - the Bears are going to win the Super Bowl. They are hitting on all cylinders, with their offense and defense both clicking. I'm a die-hard Bears fan. I love the Bears."

Durlacher describes himself as somewhat of a "free spirit" off the mat.

"I'm kind of a funny, goofy guy," he said. "And I'm an outspoken guy who calls it like it is and is brutally honest. That gets me in trouble sometimes. I'm trying to tone it down a little bit."

Durlacher was a two-time All-American at Illinois, placing second at the 1997 NCAA Championships. He earned his degree in Sports Management.

"I may end up teaching and coaching," Durlacher said. "My brother is the head wrestling coach at our high school and he runs the kids club there. I may do something like that."

For now, the focus is on the next two years of wrestling.

"I want to win a World title next year and an Olympic gold medal in two years," Durlacher said. "That would be the perfect way to end my wrestling career, winning the Olympics in Beijing, China in 2008."

Durlacher took a couple weeks off after the World Championships, but has resumed training and plans to compete at the New York AC Tournament next month.

Now when Petkovic asks Durlacher to do something he eagerly complies.

"If Momir tells me to run in a torrential downpour I do it with a smile on my face now," Durlacher said with a laugh. "He knows what he's talking about and I have really bought into what he's teaching me now. I don't question him anymore. I do whatever he's teaching me and telling me. That's one of the big reasons why I won a World medal."

Q AND A WITH LINDSEY DURLACHER

Favorite food when you are not cutting weight? It has to be Chicago's own Lou Malnatis Deep Dish Pizza

Favorite movie? Untouchables

What's in your iPod right now? All different types of music

Best moment in wrestling, so far? Becoming a two-time All-American at the University of Illinois and winning a World medal

Biggest influence on your wrestling career? Mark Johnson, Jim Heffernan and Momir Petrovic. They taught me the proper techniques and skills necessary to win NCAA, World and Olympic Medals

Coolest place you've visited on a wrestling trip? Dracula's Castle in Romania this summer

Favorite TV show? Nip/Tuck

Favorite sports team? Chicago Bears

Best part about living in Colorado Springs? Best training facility in the world

Hardest worker in the OTC wrestling room? Bill Zadick

Funniest guy on the team? Mike Ellsworth. Mike has an upbeat personality and keeps things interesting.

Wrestler you idolized while growing up? John Smith

Favorite athlete in a sport other than wrestling? Brian Urlacher. He is the best defensive player in the league, and he has a cool last name
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