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World bronze medalist Harry Lester on quest to strike gold this year

It was a day Harry Lester certainly will never forget.

A day where Lester knocked off two World champions and a World silver medalist.

And a day where he won his first World-level medal by capturing a bronze medal at the 2006 World Championships.

Lester was part of a remarkable three-medal day for the U.S. - including a gold medal by Joe Warren and a bronze medal by Lindsey Durlacher - that ranks as one of the best days ever in the history of American Greco-Roman wrestling.

September 25, 2006 certainly was a memorable day for Lester as he was a part of history at the Tianhe Sports Center in Guangzhou, China.

"It was pretty amazing," Lester said. "At first, I was down because I lost in the second round. Once I got my chance to wrestle back, I wanted to take full advantage of my opportunity. Seeing Joe and Lindsey doing so well really inspired me and that made me even hungrier to have success. It was a great day."

The multi-talented, 23-year-old Lester is hoping even better days are yet to come in his Greco-Roman career. He is set to begin his quest to make his third straight U.S. World Team at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. when he competes at the U.S. Nationals on April 6-7 in Las Vegas.

"It was a great confidence-booster to win a World medal, but I have two more medal spots to gain," Lester said. "This is a whole new year and I am pushing myself to be even better this year. My goal obviously is to win a World title this year. I won't stop until I get there and win a gold medal."

Lester, a member of U.S. Olympic Education Center program at Northern Michigan University, hasn't been on the mat as much as he would have liked this year.

He was sidelined last fall by an injury he suffered in practice shortly after the World Championships. That kept him out of the Sunkist Kids/ASU International Open in October and the New York AC Holiday International Open in November.

Lester, from Akron, Ohio, also took some time off just after Christmas. His niece, ShawRica Lester, was shot and killed on Jan. 27 before his grandmother died the same day.

"My niece was leaving a nightclub in Akron and got caught in the crossfire and was killed," Harry said. "She was only 18 years old, and we were real close. And then we lost my grandma. Our family is very, very close. It was very rough and very hard to deal with."

Even though he had not been training much, Lester returned to the mat in early February and knocked off 2006 World champion Li Yanyan of China 4-1, 6-0 in the Chicago Cup.

"That was a good win for me," Lester said. "That gave me a real nice boost to beat somebody like that."

Lester is part of a thriving USOEC program that includes Spenser Mango at 55 kg/121 pounds. Mango won a gold medal at the 2006 World University Games and added a bronze at the Junior World Championships. Past Olympians Ivan Ivanov and Jim Gruenwald are the coaches that run the successful USOEC Greco-Roman program.

"We have great coaches - both of them have been to the Olympics and World Championships - and they know where we need to be," Lester said. "The companionship on our team is real strong. We have a real strong bond among all the guys. Plus we have great competition in the room. Nobody backs down from anybody else - that's the attitude we are building up there.

"The success we've had has been great for the program. Seeing guys win medals gives everybody something to shoot for and lets them know they can accomplish those same things at the World and Olympic level."

Lester is scheduled to graduate from Northern Michigan in May. He is studying history and geography, and elementary education. He hopes to teach and run his own wrestling club.

The explosive, lightning-quick Lester proved at the 2006 World meet that he is equipped to handle the bruising, physical style of top-level international competition.

"I'm from the inner-city and I've always been a fighter," he said. "I won't back down from anybody on the mat. I've added more strength and size, and I can brawl with anybody."

Ivanov said Lester is capable of hauling home plenty more hardware in future seasons.

"Harry Lester, the kid has talent," Ivanov said. "He's also a very smart kid who is very coachable. He has really followed the plan we have for him. He continues to develop new moves and techniques that work for his style. He is very eager to learn and improve.

"Winning the bronze medal was big for his confidence. He can beat anybody - the key for him is putting a number of those matches together at a big event. He is very capable of winning a gold medal this year and I'm confident he is going to attack that goal with everything he has."
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