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U.S. ready to take aim at gold as Pan American Games wrestling competition set to open



RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Momentum, experience, confidence.

The United States is hoping to stockpile plenty of all three when it wrestles at the Pan American Games on Tuesday through Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Seventeen of the best American wrestlers - including seven in freestyle, six in Greco-Roman and four in women's freestyle - will take aim at gold medals in the event that is held every four years and one year prior to the Olympic Games.

The combined 17-member U.S. team is comprised of 15 wrestlers who already have landed spots on the 2007 World Team. The World Championships are set for Sept. 17-23 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The United States will send competitors to Rio in all seven weight classes in freestyle, six of seven weights in Greco-Roman and all four Olympic weights in women's freestyle. The Greco-Roman competition is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, the women's freestyle competition is set for Thursday and the men's freestyle weights will be contested Friday and Saturday.

The wrestling competition will be held at the Riocentro Sports Complex.

The Pan American nations are from North, Central and South America.

The American Greco-Roman team is loaded from top to bottom. The powerful squad is led by past World champion Dremiel Byers (120 kg/264.5 lbs.). The team also has three World bronze medalists in Lindsey Durlacher (55 kg/121 lbs.), Harry Lester (66 kg/145.5 lbs.) and Justin Ruiz (96 kg/211.5 lbs.).

Also on the U.S. Greco-Roman team, Brad Vering (84 kg/185 lbs.) and T.C. Dantzler (74 kg/163 lbs.) have both finished fifth in the World. The U.S. finished third in the World Championships last year and second in the 2007 World Cup.

World champion Joe Warren (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) will not compete at the Pan Am Games in Greco-Roman because of personal reasons. Warren wrestles at 60 kg/132 lbs. The U.S. was not able to find a replacement for Warren in time for the Pan Ams because of the late nature of his withdrawal from the event.

Vering and Ruiz both placed second at the last Pan American Games in 2003. Byers was a silver medalist in the 1999 Pan American Games.

"This competition is very important considering Cuba is one of toughest teams in the entire World," said Steve Fraser, USA Wrestling's National Greco-Roman Coach. "Plus the Pan Am Games is a very prestigious event and a lot of the other Central and South American countries are getting very strong. We have a very strong team, but we will need to wrestle our best to win. This tournament will help a great deal to prepare us for the Worlds. Wrestling Cuba is always a great test of where we are at."

The U.S. freestyle team is led by 2006 World silver medalist Mike Zadick at 60 kg/132 lbs. along with four-time World Team member and 2004 Olympian Daniel Cormier at 96 kg/211.5 lbs.

Zadick won the World Team Trials last month, but will have to beat U.S. Nationals champion Nate Gallick in a Special Wrestle-Off on Aug. 16 to make the 2007 World Team. Gallick was unable to compete at the World Team Trials and received permission to take part in the Special Wrestle-Off at a later date.

Cormier won a gold medal at the 2003 Pan American Games.

Past World bronze medalist Joe Williams, who won the World Team Trials at 84 kg/185 lbs., will be unable to compete at the Pan American Games because of an injury. 2006 World Team member Andy Hrovat, second to Williams at the World Team Trials, will replace Williams on the U.S. Pan American team.

The U.S. also has four newcomers on its 2007 World Team competing in Rio. They include Henry Cejudo at 55 kg/121 lbs., Doug Schwab at 66 kg/145.5 lbs., Joe Heskett at 74 kg/163 lbs. and Tommy Rowlands at 120 kg/264.5 lbs.

"We're going to Brazil to set the tone for the World Championships," said Kevin Jackson, USA Wrestling's National Freestyle Coach. "Cuba has put together its best team since sitting World champions (Yoel) Romero and (Alexis) Rodriguez in 2006. Cuba has an Olympic or World medalist at all seven weight classes. Canada also has some very strong and experienced individuals as does Venezuela and many other countries who will be competing."

The U.S. women's freestyle team is led by two-time World champion Kristie Marano at 72 kg/158.5 lbs. and 2004 Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann at 63 kg/138.75 lbs. Marano is seeking her ninth World medal this year after she won a bronze medal at the 2006 World Championships.

McMann won a gold medal at the 2003 Pan American Games.

Stephanie Murata is a past World silver medalist. She will compete at 48 kg/105.5 lbs. Marcie Van Dusen, who just made her first World Team, will compete at the Pan American Games at 55 kg/121 lbs. Van Dusen is a past World University champion.

"We have a very experienced, veteran group going down there," said Terry Steiner, USA Wrestling's National Women's Freestyle Coach. "These four wrestlers could very possibly be our Olympic Team next year. We're going in with the purpose of coming home with four gold medals. We'll definitely face some tough competition from Canada, and the other Pan American countries have improved a lot so we will definitely have to be ready to go.

"It's going to be a good competition to let us know where we're at leading into the World Championships. We swept all four weight classes (at the 2003 Pan American Games) and that helped us going into the Worlds that year. It's important for us to have a strong showing."

2007 U.S. PAN AMERICAN GAMES ROSTER

FREESTYLE
55 kg/121 lbs. - Henry Cejudo, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids)
60 kg/132 lbs. - Mike Zadick, Solon, Iowa (Gator WC)
66 kg/145.5 lbs. - Doug Schwab, Iowa City, Iowa (Gator WC)
74 kg/163 lbs. - Joe Heskett, Columbus, Ohio (Gator WC)
84 kg/185 lbs. - Andy Hrovat, Ann Arbor, Mich. (New York AC)
96 kg/211.5 lbs. - Daniel Cormier, Stillwater, Okla. (Gator WC)
120 kg/264.5 lbs. - Tommy Rowlands, Columbus, Ohio (Sunkist Kids)

GRECO-ROMAN
55 kg/121 lbs. - Lindsey Durlacher, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC)
66 kg/145.5 lbs. - Harry Lester, Akron, Ohio (Gator WC)
74 kg/163 lbs. - T.C. Dantzler, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Gator WC)
84 kg/185 lbs. - Brad Vering, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC)
96 kg/211.5 lbs. - Justin Ruiz, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC)
120 kg/264.5 lbs. - Dremiel Byers, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army)

WOMEN'S FREESTYLE
48 kg/105.5 lbs. - Stephanie Murata, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids)
55 kg/121 lbs. - Marcie Van Dusen, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids)
63 kg/138.75 lbs. - Sara McMann, Gaffney, S.C. (Sunkist Kids)
72 kg/158.5 lbs. - Kristie Marano, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC)
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