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Celebrate with the Olympians



America, are you ready to celebrate with the Olympians of 2000? The freestyle wrestling team assembled for the trip to Sydney is impressive. You can see it in their faces. You can see it in their emotion. Are you ready to celebrate the glory of the Olympic games with these eight great American wrestlers. This team is truly America's pride! When Sammie Henson, the 119 pound pit-bull, from Norman Oklahoma scored the decisive takedown with two seconds left against Eric Akin he literally unleashed a tirade of emotion. He turned to the crowd with his arms outstretched and enjoyed the ovation as he earned the right to go to the Olympics. And, with an awesome show of power, he flexed in response to the ovation. A wrestling fan has seen it before, the sculpted look of the wrestler's build, but that night in Dallas was special, Sammie Henson had become a member of the 2000 Olympic team. A year ago, Terry Brands was burned out. He retired from the sport that he had given so much to, but the desire still flickered within. Only a few months later, he was back in contention for an Olympic berth. He petitioned into the mini-tournament, for one more shot of Olympic glory. In 1996, it probably nearly destroyed him, after losing to Kendall Cross in a hotly contested three-match war to represent America. Terry Brands came up short then, and Kendall Cross went on to win Olympic Gold. This night in Dallas, Brands was again in fierce battle, but this time his opponent was Kerry Boumans of Colorado Springs. Many people underestimated Boumans chances, but as the second match wore on, people began to expect to see the rubber match take place. The matches with Boumans had wowed the crowd; two great competitors in an unbelievable struggle. Neither wanting to back down, and miss out on the dream they had sacrificed so much for. Finally, Brands prevailed earning the decisive takedown. On his face you could see a mixture of relief and exhaustion. He finally had gained his chance to wrestle for America in the Olympics. When you look at the pictures of Cary Kolat winning his Olympic berth, you can see it in his face. He is utterly emotionless, while many of his Olympic teammates jumped, pumped their fists, and celebrated in the moment, Cary Kolat politely received the ovation, allowed his hand to be raised and walked off the mat. In a moment of grand celebration, you could tell that Cary Kolat was already thinking of Olympic gold. Bruce Burnett, the USA Wrestling's Head Free-style coach, noted that Cary Kolat has been close before only to have international championships taken away from him. The Iranian who untied his own shoes to get a break from the relentless attack of Kolat ended up snatching Kolat's world title away in the last seconds. Cary Kolat, that night in Dallas, expected to be America's Olympian. One only needs to look in the practice room in Colorado Springs to see that Kolat is driven to Olympic glory. Kolat is doggedly pushing himself to the point of exhaustion. He didn't celebrate the Olympic berth, he was already focused on the work that needed to be done to gain that Olympic gold medal. Before the Olympic trials, McIlravy said, "I know when I'm mentally into it no one can take my spot, I am mentally into it now as much as ever. The day I wake up and I'm not mentally into it, somebody else can have the spot-but that's not this year." Lincoln McIlravy has been the prohibitive favorite to represent America at 152 lbs for a long time. But already being at the top of the national ladder did not stop McIlravy from basking in the glory of the moment. He has struggled for years against Chris Bono of Gilbert, Iowa and in Dallas he controlled the two matches to reach the Olympics in Australia. McIlravy's potential internationally like Kolat's is still incomplete. Yet, that night in Dallas, McIlravy allowed himself to celebrate just a touch, before he returned to the wrestling mat to prepare for the Olympics. There's something about a hometown boy doing good. Brandon Slay was the pride of Texas in Dallas. In a state that seems built for an explosion in youth wrestling, Slay was bidding to be the first Texan to earn an Olympic Wrestling slot. When he won the penned up emotion was unleashed; however, Slay must of felt something for his opponent. Brian Dolph, whom Slay beat for the Olympic berth in two matches, was a one-time coach, mentor, and long-time friend. It must've been difficult for Slay to wrestle a match knowing that to reach his Olympic dream, he needed to shatter Dolph's ambitions. When you see the pictures of the moments after the deciding match these two great competitors embraced reminding the crowd of the honor that goes with the sport of wrestling. Brandon Slay will represent America's pride in the Olympics after struggling to beat a close friend. At 187 pounds, the pictures from Dallas were still a work in progress. Charles Burton had just won the rubber-match against Lee Fullhart of the Hawkeye club. As the familiar rock-anthem of Born in the USA began to play the announcer addressed the crowd with the words, "He's an Olympian!" As Charles Burton heard the words a grin flashed across his face and he shook his head no, and held up two fingers and mouthed the words two more. After the correction, the announcer added the word "Almost". Charles Burton knew that to finalize his berth to Sydney, he still had to face the National Champion Les Gutches. Gutches did not wrestle in Dallas because of an injury. So, the matches to determine the Olympian took place in Fargo North Dakota the sight of Asics Junior National Championships. Burton knew he still had at least two matches to go and one month to wait. And, in an epic struggle in Fargo Burton won the first match only to lose the second to the 1997 World Champion. Gutches was not going to relinquish control of the weight class without a fight. In the third match, Burton was equal to the task and wrestled the victory and the Olympic spot from Gutches. One month later the story was complete, the "almost" had been answered, and Charles Burton of Bloomington, Indiana would represent the pride of America in the 2000 Olympics. Melvin Douglas had taken a year off to prepare for this chance. In 1993, Douglas had won a World title. And, now at the age of 36 Melvin Douglas had just become America's first representative on the 2000 free-style Olympic team. Through unfortunate circumstances, Dominic Black the 1995 World Cup Champion, was injured in the first match. Because he was unable to compete, Douglas was brought out before the crowd to be recognized as the Olympian at 213 pounds. Douglas the oldest member of the Olympic team enjoyed the moment and took time to seek out the familiar faces in the crowd--the people who have supported him for so long. Recently Melvin turned 37 another year older, another year wiser, and another year spent with sport he loves. Melvin Douglas will proudly represent America in the 2000 Olympics. Before the last weight class could be filled, the crowd in Dallas would be treated to an epic clash of titans at the heavyweight spot. The two foes knew each other well, but the seeming underdog had upset the favorite at the National Championships in Las Vegas. Kerry McCoy could sit back and watch the mini-tournament as the reigning World Champion Stephen Neal would battle through. Then, the crowd witnessed the stunning and decisive two-match victory that Kerry McCoy put together. To see a World Champion lose would've been surprising, if the challenger had not been Kerry McCoy. America's is stocked with heavyweights and to see a World Champion fall in defeat was an amazing moment. McCoy celebrated the victory knowing the gift that came with it. He would now get to wrestle on the international stage of the 2000 Olympics. America's pride is represented in these eight great competitors on the freestyle Olympic team. The work involved in earning the Olympic berth was e
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