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Justin Ruiz hoping to start 2007 with strong performance at Dave Schultz Memorial International

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Justin Ruiz is now one of the veterans on the United States Greco-Roman wrestling team.

The 27-year-old has competed in the World Championships three times, winning a bronze medal at the 2005 World meet in Budapest, Hungary, and wrestling on the U.S. team that placed third at the 2006 World meet in Guangzhou, China.

But now Ruiz is looking for something bigger this season.

A gold medal for himself and a gold trophy for the American team at the 2007 World Championships this September in Baku, Azerbaijan. The U.S. also has designs on winning the World Cup dual-meet competition later this month in Turkey.

He continues his quest and preparation toward those goals this weekend at the Dave Schultz Memorial International Open. Ruiz will compete on Friday.

"I'm real excited about competing in this event," Ruiz said. "It's the first tournament of the new year, so it's nice to see what I have to work on and it's good preparation for the World Cup that is coming up. We have a lot of good competition here and it will be good to get some good matches in."

Ruiz has established himself as one of the best in the World at 96 kg/211.5 pounds, but a loss to Young Han Tae of Korea in his second match at the 2006 World Championships is driving him to win a title this year.

"I obviously hate losing and that loss motivates me a lot," said Ruiz, who competes for the New York Athletic Club. "I don't want to feel that way again this year and be in that situation again. It's made me reevaluate some things and how I approach training and how I approach competition."

Like his teammates, Ruiz also is trying to figure out the best way to compete under the current Greco-Roman rules that were instituted less than two years ago.

"There is very little margin for error," he said. "But if you do the right things and are able to score points, you will still be all right. The rules can be frustrating when it comes down to a coin flip, but you have to try and overcome that."

Ruiz, who lives and trains in Colorado Springs, is in a strong 96 kg class at the Dave Schultz event. Among the wrestlers in his class is Kazakhstan's Margulan Assembekov, who placed fifth at the 2005 World Championships.

Also entered at 96 kilos is 2006 U.S. Nationals runner-up Adam Wheeler, who beat Ruiz in the Dave Schultz event last year. American R.C. Johnson, third at the 2006 U.S. World Team Trials, also is entered along with Robby Smith of the U.S. Smith won the 2006 University Nationals.

"It's nice being able to wrestle this kind of competition without traveling overseas," Ruiz said. "I wish we had a couple more events in the U.S. like this. It's great having these guys here, plus a lot of them have been here training with us the last couple weeks. That helps a lot and gives us a good change of pace."

The American Greco-Roman team enjoyed a huge first day at the 2006 World Championships as Joe Warren, Lindsey Durlacher and Harry Lester each won their first World medals. Warren won a gold medal while Durlacher and Lester won bronze medals.

"Everybody on our team is really excited about the season," Ruiz said. "Everybody is working hard to get better. I don't think anybody is satisfied with where they are, even Joe Warren being a World champ, he is trying to get better. We're definitely not resting on our laurels."

Ruiz said seeing three guys win World medals for the first time in 2006 has inspired other people in the wrestling room at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

"It just shows that it's a possibility for a lot of guys on our team," Ruiz said. "To have so many guys medal last year, I think it does show some of these younger guys that if they train in this program and do what the coaches are telling us that they can win medals at the highest level. It just motivates everybody."
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