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BIG TEN FEATURE - Lowney challenges himself to make a statement as a college wrestler



Consider this trivia question: What current U.S. athlete won an Olympic Greco-Roman bronze medal before he ever had an official match on his college team? OK, the answer is easy, at least for anyone who followed the wrestling action in Sydney last summer. It seems every time Garrett Lowney steps on the mat representing the Minnesota Gophers, a public address announcer tells the crowd that he is an Olympic medalist. In addition, tattoed on his massive shoulder, is the official Olympic rings logo. It's pretty hard to miss the fact that this special athlete has already reached a goal that only few wrestlers will ever approach. Plus, he did it at the age of 20, many years before most U.S. wrestlers are able to compete on an international level. How can Lowney get excited about lacing up his shoes and facing college wrestlers during the regular college season? This is the same guy who launched five-time World Champion Gogui Kogouachvili of Russia for a five-point supplay in overtime as the entire world watched in Sydney. This is the athlete who, with an injured neck and shoulder that made him basically compete with just one arm, was able to win an Olympic bronze-medal match. "It hasn't been easy, especially getting up for the single dual meets" said Lowney. "I tended to wrestle to the level of competition. Against some lesser wrestlers, I wrestled at their level. When it was a big match, I would wrestle good. I have to learn to get excited about all the matches." Minnesota wrestling fans are certainly excited about Lowney. He is the heavyweight anchor of an impressive line-up, the nation's No. 1 dual meet team that just captured the Big Ten team title in commanding fashion. When Lowney was able to join the lineup in January at the National Duals, the Gophers were still knocking at the door. Since his arrival, the team has dominated college wrestling. To most freshmen, the idea of winning a Big Ten individual title is pure fantasy. This is America's strongest college conference, and most young athletes have to pay their dues. Lowney paid his dues with 2 years of preparation, including two redshirt years (one for the Olympics) and a lost semester due to a Big Ten eligibility ruling. When he competed for Minnesota in his first dual meet during the National Duals in January, he was not a raw freshman; he was already an international wrestling star. The problem for Lowney is what he will be able to do for an encore. Coming into the meet, Lowney was undefeated, yet still was ranked No. 2 in the conference, as well as No. 2 in the nation, to Ohio State's super freshman Tommy Rowlands. The rankings meant nothing to Lowney. "I expected to be number two coming in," he said. "Tommy is the only guy in the league I hadn't wrestled yet. He was number one when I came on the scene, and he hadn't lost since then. I really doesn't matter. You have to beat the same guys to win it all." Lowney still hasn't wrestled Rowlands, who was upset in the Big Ten semifinals by veteran Illinois heavyweight John Lockhart. Lowney moved through his side of the bracket without incident to make the finals, where he defeated Lockhart, 6-2 and became the Big Ten Champion. Ironically, the Big Ten named Rowlands the Freshman of the Year, even though freshman Lowney won the weight class and is still undefeated in college wrestling competition. Perhaps it's hard for the conference to consider Lowney a mere freshman, because of his amazing achievements in international wrestling. None of this really matters much to Lowney, though, who only wants to continue winning and getting better as he goes. "I was happy with the way I wrestled all weekend," said Lowney. "I had to get up for this tournament. I challenged myself. I wanted to make a statement." It is probable that Lowney's statement during the Big Tens has earned him the No. 1 seed for the NCAA Championships in Iowa City in two weeks. He will certainly be the target for all of the rest of America's heavyweights, each wanting to beat the Olympic medalist and give him his first college loss. This is the kind of challenge that is certain to get Lowney's competitive fire burning hot. Lowney, who competed at 213.75 pounds in Sydney, is still an undersized heavyweight, and is still making the transition to learning to wrestle against bigger opponents. "I was having trouble learning how to score on these big guys," said Lowney. "We had to go back to the drawing board. We tweaked a few things, and I am glad how I am competing right now." Lowney moves well for a heavyweight, but has the strength and powerful pummeling technique to go toe-to-toe with the big boys. He can score in a variety of ways, using both speed and strength as needed. Even when his matches are close, Lowney seems to have an edge, with a mat presence and maturity that few young athletes have displayed. Then again, few athletes have used the Olympic Games as a way to prepare for their first college season. Somehow, it makes sense the Lowney might just have a different perspective about wrestling than his peers on the college level. Whether or not it matters to Lowney, he is certain to be the center of attention throughout his entire college career.
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