Sanderson gets a scare, McCoy gets ousted on mostly good day by U.S. wrestlers

Friday, August 27th 2004, 2:08 pm
By: News On 6

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Cael Sanderson couldn't have gotten a bigger scare on his first day as an Olympic wrestler. Kerry McCoy couldn't have been more disappointed on his last day.

All was going right for a surprisingly good U.S. freestyle team Friday, with Sanderson, Jamill Kelly and Stephen Abas all go unbeaten, until McCoy unexpectedly took a tumble that left him without a medal for the second straight games.

McCoy was tossed by Marid Mutalimov of Kazakhstan 11 seconds in overtime, a 3-point move that sent Mutalimov into the medal round at 264 1/2 pounds (120kg) and a somber McCoy home to Bethlehem, Pa. He announced his retirement immediately afterward, saying, ``It was just not meant to be for me to win an Olympic medal.''

McCoy's loss was eerily similar to that of U.S. Greco-Roman 264 1/2-pounder Rulon Gardner two days before. Both were thrown early in overtime to lose 4-1 to a Kazakhstan wrestler. Both had gold-medal hopes. Both retired, though Gardner wrestled one more match for the bronze.

But McCoy, 30, didn't think of leaving his shoes on the mat as Gardner did, if only because the loss came so suddenly and so unexpectedly. This wasn't a time for ceremony, it was a time to be sad.

Another difference: Gardner leaves the Olympics with a gold and bronze. McCoy leaves only with unpleasant memories.

``I didn't make it happen,'' said McCoy, a world runner-up last year and two-time NCAA champion at Penn State. ``I just know I'm done with wrestling, and I don't have to put up with this any more. ... I'm happy to be done, and just move on to other things. It's terrible to lose.''

McCoy beat Mutalimov 5-0 in last year's world championships, but wrestled more tentatively than he did then.

``He was nervous. He was all nerves,'' said Greg Strobel, McCoy's coach. ``The guy kept poking him in the eye and he probably should have been given a couple of penalty points. But McCoy didn't make a mistake (in overtime) _ the other guy just went out first.''

And now McCoy is out first, the only American loss in 11 matches Friday. Abas (3-0) had by far the toughest draw of the four Americans, while Kelly (2-0) had the least amount of international experience, yet both won out.

``I didn't want to be the one that lost,'' Kelly said.

Sanderson, the most successful college wrestler ever while going 159-0 at Iowa State, won three times at 185 pounds (84kg) and will meet Cuba's Yoel Romero in the semifinals Saturday. Sanderson rallied from two points down in the final minute to beat Iran's Majid Khodaei 6-5 in overtime after winning twice earlier.

Sanderson, often stoic and emotionless on the mat, revealed some of his personality by clapping his hands and looking angry several times _ especially when Khodaei was awarded two points for back exposure on a roll Sanderson initiated.

``It's a tough call. ... But I felt good out there, I felt like I was having fun even when I was behind,'' said Sanderson, who won it with three successive takedowns. ``I knew I could score even when I was behind.''

Unlike McCoy, Sanderson _ also a world silver medalist last year _ didn't appear to have a case of Olympics nerves.

``It's hard to believe you're finally at the games, that you're within a few minutes from stepping on the mat, but it's really like every tournament,'' Sanderson said.

Only with a lot more people watching. Now, to win the gold, he must improve his combined 0-4 against Romero (0-2) and Russian world champion Sazhid Sazhidov, who is in the opposite bracket.

Abas, a former Fresno State wrestler who was fifth in the world last year, beat world No. 2 Ghenadie Tulbea, Moldova, 6-1; and 2002 world champion Rene Montero, Cuba, 4-3, to win his pool, then beat China's Li Zhengyu 6-1 in the quarterfinals.

``When you see a guy who got a bad draw like that winning, sure, it gets you going,'' Sanderson said.

Kelly, one of three former Oklahoma State wrestlers on the U.S. team, won his three-man pool at 145 1/2 pounds (66kg), then got a break with a bye into the semifinals. He meets Makhach Murtazaliev, who beat out 2003 world champion Irbek Farniev to make the Russian team.

Two returning Sydney Olympic champions were eliminated _ Iran's Ali Reza Dabir at 145 1/2 pounds and Namiz Abdullaev of Azerbaijan at 121 pounds.