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Crowd Lifts Hall to OT Wrestling Victory

July 21, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ It was a good day gone bad for the United States in Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling. At least the Americans were in good company.

Dennis Hall, the only American to win a world Greco-Roman title, is one victory away from the gold medal match after a stomping, crowd-waving crowd rallied him to two tense overtime victories Saturday.

But on a day that saw five former Olympic or world champions eliminated from gold medal contention, four of the five Americans were bounced, including 1992 bronze medalist Rodney Smith.

Four U.S. wrestlers won their preliminary matches, and it looked like America might be headed for its best day in what traditionally is one of its weakest Olympic sports. The United States has won only seven Greco-Roman medals since the modern Olympics began in 1896.

But then the losses started, and Majaahid Maynard (105 1/2 pounds), Smith (149 1/2), Dan Henderson (180 1/2) and Jason Gleasman (220) were eliminated.

``We had some one-point losses, and those are the matches you have to win in the Olympics,″ U.S. coach Rob Hermann said. ``Dennis found a way to win, and that’s what you have to do _ find a way to win.″

Hall, whose wife, Chrissy, expects to deliver their first child any day, beat Seref Eroglu of Turkey 3-0 in overtime, then came back to beat Chi-Ho Park of South Korea 3-2.

``When I was out there, I felt like I had the whole country behind me,″ said Hall, the U.S. captain who started a teamwide trend by shaving his head. ``That’s what keeps you going out there. That’s what pumps you up.″

Hall, considered the United States’ best hope ever for its first Greco-Roman gold medal, trailed Park 2-1 after the regulation five-minute period. Under international rules, a wrestler must score at least three points to win in regulation.

Hall, who controlled the match throughout, but constantly found himself being sent to the bottom position, won by rolling Park over with 47 seconds remaining in overtime. He received one point for the reversal and another for exposing Park’s back to the mat.

``The crowd was going nuts,″ said Hall, of Stevens Point, Wis. ``It was unbelievable. It was a tough match, but I’ll take it.″

Hall didn’t know until 90 minutes after the match ended if he had reached Sunday’s semifinals, or if he had another match. International tournaments staged by FILA, the sport’s governing body, use a complicated pairings formula that even the coaches and athletes seldom understand.

Smith, for example, figured he was done for the day after losing to Grigoriy Pulyayev of Uzbekistan in the second round. But he was pulled away from interviews and told he had to wrestle again in 20 minutes.

Smith, who overcame two damaged vertebrae in his neck to win his 1992 bronze medal, then saw a 2-0 lead dissolve into a 3-2 loss to Cuba’s Liubal Oris in the losers’ bracket.

Once a wrestler loses in the winners’ bracket, he can win no more than a bronze medal.

``Just because you don’t win a medal doesn’t mean you’re a failure,″ said Smith, a U.S. Army generator repairman based in Fort Benning, Ga. ``It means things didn’t go your way. I thought I would win the gold.″

The bracket seemed to be falling Smith’s way after he beat Jose Escobar of Columbia 6-1 and two top wrestlers in his bracket lost: 1992 Olympic champion Attila Repka of Hungary and defending world champion Rustam Adzhy of Ukraine.

``But a lot of people didn’t think I’d even be back here,″ said Smith, who sat out nearly two years of competition to heal. ``I lost, but I worked very hard to get here.″

Other defending Olympic champions losing were Peter Farkas of Hungary at 180 1/2 and Oleg Koutcherenko of Germany at 105 1/2 pounds. Former world champion Alexander Ignatenko lost to another former world champion, Yuri Melnichenko of Kazakhstan, 10-0 at 125 1/2.

Poland’s Ryszard Wolny, backed by a vocal contingent of fans, defeated Repka 4-3. Farkas lost 3-1 in overtime to Sergei Tsvir of Russia, and Wilber Sanchez of Cuba avenged a 1992 Olympic defeat by beating Koutcherenko.