Stephen Neal (Bakersfield, Calif./Dave Schultz WC) has been named the winner of the 1999 John Smith Award as the Freestyle Wrestler of the Year by USA Wrestling. It is the first time that Neal has won this prestigious award.
Neal was the 1999 World Champion at 286 pounds, the top U.S. wrestling performance in 1999. He was competing in his first World Championships event. His performance led the United States to a strong second place team finish.
Neal defeated two-time World bronze medalist Andrei Shumilin of Russia in the gold-medal finals, 4-3. He won five matches on the way to the title, and was competing in his first World Championships.
He won a gold medal in every tournament he entered in 1999, and ended the season with an 18-1 freestyle record. Neal was the 1999 Pan American Games champion and defeated 1998 World Champion Alexis Rodriguez of Cuba in the gold medal finals, 8-7.
Neal also won his first career gold medals at the 1999 Freestyle World Team Trials and the 1999 U.S. Nationals. He was named Outstanding Wrestler at the U.S. Freestyle National Championships, after defeating veteran Tom Erikson in the gold medal finals. At the World Team Trials, Neal stopped 1998 World Team member Kerry McCoy in the best-of-three series. Neal was also the 1999 University Nationals freestyle champion.
He was also the 1999 NCAA Div. I champion for Cal-State Bakersfield, his second straight NCAA title. He was the winner of the 1999 Dan Hodge Trophy, awarded by W.I.N. magazine to the best college wrestler.
Neal received the 1999 USOC Male Wrestler of the Year award. He was a top Five Finalist for the 1999 James E. Sullivan Award, recognizing the nation's best amateur athletes. He was also named 1999 Amateur Wrestling News Man of the Year.
Neal now serves as an assistant wrestling coach at Cal-State Bakersfield. He is originally from San Diego, Calif. PAST JOHN SMITH AWARD WINNERS AS FREESTYLE WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
1999 - Stephen Neal, Bakerfield, Calif., Dave Schultz WC
1998 - Sammie Henson, Norman, Okla., Sunkist Kids
1997 - Les Gutches, Corvallis, Ore., Sunkist Kids
1996 - Kendall Cross, Raleigh, N.C., Sunkist Kids
1995 - Kevin Jackson, Phoenix, Ariz., Sunkist Kids
1994 - Melvin Douglas, Mesa, Ariz., Sunkist Kids
1993 - Terry and Tom Brands, Iowa City, Iowa, Team Foxcatcher
1992 - John Smith, Stillwater, Okla., Sunkist Kids