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American Beats Another Russian Star

September 28, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ Russia is in big trouble with three days of Olympic wrestling remaining. The United States has beaten all of its superstars.

Brandon Slay, the first Texan to wrestle on the U.S. Olympic team, eliminated Olympic champion Bouvaissa Saitiev, 4-3 Thursday _ the third big U.S. upset of a Russian in five days.

Slay’s upset at 167 1/2 pounds wasn’t as big as Greco-Roman super heavyweight Rulon Gardner’s gold-medal victory over Alexander Karelin on Wednesday, the first loss of three-time Olympic champion Karelin’s career.

Still, it means none of Russia’s three best wrestlers will leave Sydney with a gold medal.

``There is nothing bigger than Karelin losing, but this is right up there with it,″ U.S. assistant coach Kevin Jackson said.

Garrett Lowney, who hasn’t started his college career at Minnesota, upset five-time world champion Gogui Koguachvili _ as big a favorite in his class as Karelin was _ at 213 3/4 pounds in Greco-Roman. Lowney went on to win the bronze medal.

Slay, a two-time NCAA runner-up at the University of Pennsylvania and a Wharton School of Business graduate, had never wrestled Saitiev, a 1996 Olympic champion who had won every world-level tournament he had entered since 1995.

Saitiev is widely considered the world’s best freestyle wrestler.

``It was a little disheartening to see him in my pool, to know you might have to wrestle an Olympics final match in the second round,″ said Slay, 25, of Amarillo, Texas. ``But I had to beat him anyway to win the gold medal, so I might as well do it now.″

Slay’s victory, secured with a takedown early in the overtime, eliminates Saitiev and advances he American into the quarterfinals Friday (Thursday night EDT).

Russia immediately disputed the decisive takedown, but its protest was denied _ unlike one earlier that helped eliminate a top U.S. medal hope, Cary Kolat, at 138 3/4 pounds.

Kolat, who can’t seem to win for losing off-the-mat decisions, won 3-1 over former world champion Mohammad Talaei of Iran, saw the result protested, then lost the rematch 5-4. Iran disputed a two-point scoring move awarded to Kolat.

Kolat later pinned Ramil Islamov of Uzbekistan in 5:52. However, Talaei won by injury forfeit over Islamov to win the pool, advance to the quarterfinals and eliminate Kolat.

It was the third time in four years a Kolat victory in a world-level championship was stripped by protest.

``When I get to heaven, one of the first things I’m going to ask is: Why does this keep happening to Cary Kolat?″ U.S. coach Bruce Barnett said.

In the rematch, Kolat gave up his first point when he lost his grip on a clinch, the same kind of point that gave Gardner his improbable victory over Karelin on Wednesday.

Talaei then hit a pair of two-point scoring moves in the next 30 seconds to lead 5-0.

``He gave up that point and he had a mental letdown,″ Barnett said.

Kolat, a Pennsylvania high school wrestling icon whose name is on the road sign at the city limits of his Rices Landing, Pa., hometown, tried to rally. He got a point off a caution, another off a takedown and two more on a throw to make it 5-4, but Talaei wrestled out the final 30 seconds without allowing another point.

In the stands, Kolat’s wife, Erin, and mother, Judy, sat hand-in-hand, sobbing, distraught at Kolat’s latest mat misfortune.

``I don’t like it, and I’ve never liked it, that a point can be awarded on the mat and allowed to stand, and somebody goes into a back room and changes it,″ Barnett said. ``To have your hand raised in victory over a world champion, then have to come back and wrestle him again, it’s tough.

``I’m disappointed in the system because they keep making mistakes with it.″

Kolat was clearly angry at losing a match he felt he had already won, responding only with an expletive as he ran by reporters.

Because of two prior match reversals in world championships, Kolat is personally responsible for two international rule changes, including the protest format that cost him Thursday.

Following a 1997 world finals loss in which an opponent, also from Iran, gained advantage by untying his shoes, wrestlers now must tape their shoes.

Also, all protested matches now are re-wrestled, the result of a 1998 match in which Serafim Barzakov of Bulgaria overturned his loss to Kolat on protest without the two wrestling again.

Last year, wrestling with a separated shoulder, Kolat beat Elbrus Tedeev of Ukraine 4-2 in the world semifinals. But Tedeev protested, and he won the rematch in overtime 2-1.

``What you’re thinking is, `I can’t believe I’m wrestling this guy again,′ ″ Kolat said earlier this year. ``You get a guy who is walking off the mat thinking he’s lost and then he’s told he’s got another shot and he’s on cloud nine.″

Kolat hoped that in the Olympics, the one real showcase for amateur wrestling, the scoring would be more consistent, the decisions less controversial and, perhaps, less political.

``But you can’t protest a protested match,″ Barnett said. ``I’m disappointed, but it happens.″

Advancing along with Slay was Sammie Henson, who moved into the 119-pound quarterfinals by pounding Moon Myung-seok of South Korea 11-0 and Chikara Tanabe of Japan 9-1 at 119 pounds.

Henson, a two-time NCAA champion at Clemson and 1998 world champion from Norman, Okla., said his goal in his first Olympics was to ``eliminate and dominate. I want to eliminate all mistakes and beat everyone by six or seven points.″

Melvin Douglas, at 37 the oldest wrestler on the U.S. team, lost his two matches at 213 3/4 pounds _ the weight where Kurt Angle won a gold medal in 1996 _ and was eliminated.

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