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|Dremiel Byers returns to Las Vegas with sights set on Rio de Janeiro|
By Tim Hipps IMCOM Public Affairs
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Two-time Olympian Sgt. 1st Class Dremiel Byers plans to continue his quest for an Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“It went so bad in London that I can’t let it end this way,” said Byers, who defeated Uzbekistan’s Muminjon Adbullaev, 1-0, 1-0, before losing 1-0, 1-0 to reigning world champion Riza Kayaalp of Turkey in the 2012 Olympic quarterfinals. “I put myself through all this training and all these competitions and just to walk away on a loss like that when I know that I can beat the guy, there’s not even a thought in my mind to allow that to happen.”
Byers, 38, will compete April 20 at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas, his first tournament since wrestling Aug. 6 at the 2012 London Olympic Games and undergoing shoulder surgery in late October. He goes forward with a new mindset.
“Gear up and lean into it,” said Byers, who will be 41 if he competes in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. “I know I’m a little bit older; got to be a little smarter; just get something out of everything that I do, you know? That’s real important. I don’t want to get sidetracked with a young man’s desires. Not to say older guys aren’t ambitious, it’s just that we probably know the terrain a little better. That’s what I’m banking on.
“I don’t need to get all excited the way these guys are. They’re happy to be there. They’re young, and they’re just trying to see everything and take it all in. Get ice cream. Let them do that. … Through the benefit of experience, your personal philosophies develop also. I have this thought in my head that when guys celebrate that hard – it’s good to see in sport, that’s what it’s about – but when guys celebrate that hard, they didn’t know they were going to win. And I’m guilty of that: I’ve celebrated pretty hard in my past and I’m real happy that it worked out. But at this point, I’ll look over to my coach and say: ‘Hey, we put the work in, we got it done.’”
Byers, a Soldier in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., said he consulted with WCAP and Olympic coach Shon Lewis about continuing to wrestle, but ultimately the decision was his own.
“We talked a little bit about certain things,” Byers said. “I definitely know that I still have work to do, and wrestling’s not done with me yet. It will let me know.
“I just think it’s been a hell of a ride and it would be all for nothing, it would just hurt me, to not walk away with the medal that I’ve been chasing all this time. That’s just bottom line. It’s nothing extravagant. It’s just simple. ‘Hey, I’m supposed to have that medal. I’ve got to go get it.’ And it’s not a pipe dream, especially when I’m still winning. I don’t want anything to get in the way of chasing this medal.”
Byers long ago promised his late grandfather that he would win him an Olympic medal. As the years passed and the tale grew, like most great tales do, it became not only a gold medal but Byers’ obsession.
“My grandfather was a funny guy,” Byers said. “If he was here today, he would probably say something like, ‘Hey, I’m glad you didn’t stamp a time and date on that.’ That was just his humor, but that still would have motivated me to want to go and chase it even harder. I think about that quite a bit, but I’ve got my own ambition tied up into it.”
Skeptics doubted if Byers would continue wrestling after losing in the quarterfinals of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, but his response was that until someone in the U.S. dethroned him that he would not stop wrestling. His mantra is much the same four years later.
“People have thrown their two cents out there and made a comment about the level of competition that I have here in the United States, and I let them know that it’s always a wild card – there’s always somebody trying to come up. I just think that I need to get as much out of every workout as I possibly can. Get as much out of every tournament and surround myself with people who are going to push me so I can just chase it like a young man, but with every step be cautious and wise as someone my age with this level of experience.”
After spending the better part of 13 years wrestling in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, Byers jokes that “I’ve been on the job one week.” He first appeared at the USA Wrestling National Championships in 1996 as an All-Army competitor.
“The WCAP wrestling room has supported me greatly and always placed me where I’ve needed to be, but at this point, sometimes it’s only a little bit of encouragement from the right person or to actually get some time in with someone that you can’t say no to,” Byers said. “I benefit greatly under those circumstances. I’ve never seen or witnessed anybody bring me as far as my coach. I’m in a good situation, as far as my coaching goes. I’ve always appreciated Shon being there and the support that WCAP gives me is unmatched. I couldn’t get that anywhere. I couldn’t go over to the Olympic Training Center and get that. It’s just not there for me like that. I know who my coach is.”
Yet, there must be something, somewhere that can push Byers over the hump, so to speak.
“There have been some rule changes and wrestling is ever-evolving, and there’s always a new guy coming out,” Byers said. “And every now and again, that old technique shines. It shines. Not that I’m banking on some old move or anything, it’s just that, hey, I’m awake and I’m still kicking and I’ve got some places I can go that’s going to get the best out of me. I started doing it right before the Olympics, but I probably should have been doing a whole lot more of that prior to the Olympics for years and years before because it was getting real good right before the Olympics.”
If the International Olympic Committee’s decision to remove wrestling from the Games is upheld, Byers could be the last U.S. Greco-Roman heavyweight wrestler in Olympic history. He already is the only American Greco-Roman wrestler ever to win gold, silver and bronze medals at the World Championships.
After returning from London, Byers made back-to-back trips to the nation’s capital for an awards presentation in conjunction with the U.S. Army Soldier Show at Fort Belvoir, Va., and the U.S. Olympic Team’s traditional visit of the White House in Washington.
He resumed training in October at wrestling camps in Sacramento, Calif., and Oklahoma, before deciding it was time to tend to his aching shoulders.
“My left shoulder was pretty banged up and just really needed to be cleaned out, that’s all,” Byers said of the procedure conducted in late October. “The doctor went in and he thought it was going to be my rotator cuff, but my rotator cuff was fine – just needed to get the debris out of the way, pretty much.”
Byers said the pain had been nagging him for a couple of years.
“Actually both shoulders are pretty banged up,” he said. “I’ll try to get the other one fixed this year, after September, if possible. But, yeah, it was in a lot of pain.”
Planning on wrestling at least three more years, Byers was in no hurry to rush back from surgery.
“I want to be as close to 100 percent as I can get,” he said. “I want to know that all my superpowers are still working. I want to feel strong and unaffected by my opponents and competitors. Want to go in there with my lungs right, weight under control, and even though I know this shoulder is going to always have some kind of tweaking, it is fixed. They better watch out; it’s fixed.”
The 2015 Wrestling World Championships, coincidentally, are scheduled for Sept. 7 through 15 in Las Vegas, where it all started for Byers – and less than one year before the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where it all could end.
“It’s just the circumstances,” Byers said. “That’s all it really is right now. Yeah, I’m that old and I will be that old. That’s about as far as I can allow it to matter to me. When I’m on the mat, it’s just two competitors. And in most cases, I know one of them real well. So the desire that guy is driven with, namely myself, that’s all I can really focus on. My age can’t be that much of a factor. I can’t allow it. I’m smarter, I can tell you that. I recognize more. I’ve seen it more. I just use the benefit of my experience and that’s it.
“One of the young guys asked me the other day, ‘You still going? You’re not hurt? You don’t just have pains?’ And I said, ‘No, man, I don’t have those same pains you do because you don’t get hurt that much when you’re winning all the time.’ I don’t have those pains and all those injuries. I’ve got some wear and tear on some shoulders and a couple places that I’ve just got to take a little while longer to stretch, then get up and go do what I’ve got to do.”