Lester, Vering strike gold, Byers wins silver on first night of wrestling competition at Pan American Games
Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
07/24/2007

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - It was not the sweep the United States was looking for.

But the Americans are still off to a very strong start in the Pan American Games.

Harry Lester and Brad Vering won gold medals, and Dremiel Byers added a silver, as the U.S. opened the five-day wrestling competition Tuesday at the Riocentro Sports Complex.

"I'm really happy with the results of this session," USA Wrestling National Greco-Roman Coach Steve Fraser said. "This is a big win for Harry at his first Pan American Games. He beat a very tough Cuban in the semifinals. Vering has been working very, very hard and he's just on a mission right now. After the match, he was in the back doing sprints for 15 or 20 minutes. Byers wrestled pretty well and wrestled smart."

Lester (Akron, Ohio/Gator WC), a 2006 World bronze medalist, jacked Anyelo Mota of the Dominican Republic into the air with his reverse lift and planted him directly onto his back for a first-period fall in the finals at 66 kg/145.5 lbs.

"I call the move a Spike or a Power Bomb," Lester said. "I do it quite a bit - guys like Joe Warren and T.C. Dantzler do it as well. I love to do it whenever I get the chance and it worked out for me tonight."

It was a strong performance for Lester, who was one of three Americans along with Vering and Byers who had to make weight just over 24 hours after landing in Rio. The U.S. Greco-Roman team arrived late because of flight problems on the way from Washington, D.C. to Brazil.

"It was a big relief when I made weight - a big relief," Lester said. "When I step out on the mat, I'm going to have fun. I really enjoyed being out there competing and just had fun with it. I had to stay focused and stick to my game plan. Whenever I do that, in my mind, nobody can beat me."

Lester credited his teammates for helping him through a rough couple of days.

"That just shows the closeness of our team, how much they supported me," Lester said. "We have great leadership on this team and it has really showed on this trip."

Vering (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC), a silver medalist in the 2003 Pan American Games, came out aggressively and caught Venezuela's Eddy Bartolozzy on his back in a scramble to build a quick 3-0 lead. He then used a front headlock to set up a second-period takedown where he spun around the burly Bartolozzy just before the one-minute mark. Neither wrestler could turn the other and Vering won the match 5-0, 2-1.

"I know I dominated him in the first period and I know I dominated him in the second period," Vering said. "And I know there was no way in hell he was going to turn me. The kid's strong and physical and he's big. He wrestles a lot at 96 kilos and I just knew he would get tired. I just had to figure out a way to score when that happened."

It was a physical final-round match and a good test for Vering in the finals at 84 kg/185 lbs. Vering, who failed to make the World Team in 2006 after making the previous three World Teams and the 2004 Olympic Team, has come back with a vengeance this year. He definitely is on top of his game right now and on a mission to win a World title this year.

"I'm trying to get ready to win a World championship," Vering said. "I feel like I wrestled really well. I'm on a roll right now and I just have to keep it going."

Byers (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army), second in the 1999 Pan Am Games, dropped a 1-1, 2-1 decision to Cuba's Mijail Lopez in a battle of past World champions at 120 kg/264.5 lbs. Neither wrestler scored in the first minute before Lopez won the coin flip. Neither wrestler could score in the top position and Lopez won the period by virtue of scoring last.

Lopez slipped behind Byers for a takedown early in the second period and won the period 2-1 after neither wrestler could score in the top position.

Byers was unable to get his lock on Lopez in the first period.

"Right now, I'm disgusted with myself because I'm losing to somebody I know I can beat," he said. "It's killing me inside to know that I just lost to a guy I think I'm better than. I have some things I need to work on and correct."

Byers has drawn praise for providing leadership and encouragement to the team during the adversity they have faced on this trip.

"Dremiel has really stepped up and helped our team," Fraser said. "I can't say enough about the leadership he's provided."

Byers said he was just trying to help the team through a tough situation.

"I just told everybody we had to fight through this and push through it," he said. "That's the sign of a champion, when you can push through adversity."

The two-day Greco-Roman competition concludes on Wednesday. It will be followed by women's freestyle on Thursday and men's freestyle on Friday and Saturday at the Riocentro Sports Complex.

American Greco-Roman wrestlers Lindsey Durlacher (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC), T.C. Dantzler (Colorado Springs, Colo./Gator WC) and Justin Ruiz (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) are scheduled to compete Wednesday. Durlacher is bumping up a weight class to 60 kg/132 lbs. while Dantzler will wrestle at 74 kg/163 lbs. and Ruiz at 96 kg/211.5 lbs.

American Joe Warren (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) is not competing here for personal reasons. Warren wrestles at 60 kg/132 lbs.

TUESDAY'S PAN AMERICAN GAMES MEDALISTS

55 kg/121 lbs.
Gold - Yagniel Hernandez (Cuba)
Silver - Jorge Cardozo (Venezuela)
Bronze - Jansel Ramirez (Dominican Republic)
Bronze - Angel Lema (Ecuador)

66 kg/145.5 lbs.
Gold - Harry Lester (USA)
Silver - Anyelo Mota (Dominican Republic)
Bronze - Alain Milian (Cuba)
Bronze - Carlos Ramos (Venezuela)

84 kg/185 lbs.
Gold - Brad Vering (USA)
Silver - Eddy Bartolozzy (Venezuela)
Bronze - Jose Arias (Dominican Republic)
Bronze - Yunior Estrada (Cuba)

120 kg/264.5 lbs.
Gold - Mijail Lopez (Cuba)
Silver - Dremiel Byers (USA)
Bronze - Rafael Barreno (Venezuela)
Bronze - Ari Taub (Canada)

U.S. match-by-match results

66 kg/145.5 lbs. - Harry Lester, Akron, Ohio (Gator WC) - 1st
WIN Renato Migliaccio (Brazil) 6-0, 6-0
WIN Ulises Barragan (Mexico) fall 1:13
WIN Alain Milian (Cuba) 3-1, 3-0
WIN Anyelo Mota (Dominican Republic) fall 1:09

84 kg/185 lbs. - Brad Vering, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC) - 1st
WIN Aguilar Hernandez Rafael (Mexico) 5-0, 4-0
WIN Jose Arias (Dominican Republic) 4-2, 4-0
WIN Eddy Bartolozzy (Venezuela) 5-0, 2-1

120 kg/264.5 lbs. - Dremiel Byers, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army) - 2nd
WIN Ari Taub (Canada) 5-0, 6-0
LOSS Mijail Lopez (Cuba) 1-1, 2-1