Work in Sports
Underachieving U.S. wrestlers must grapple with failure
SYDNEY, Australia -- It was probably the weirdest -- and no doubt the worst -- Olympics in the history of U.S. freestyle wrestling. There were tears and tantrums, boos and bungles, some serious self-examination and even a haunting echo of Rosemary Woods. There was also, for the first time since 1968, zero gold medals for the Americans. "We have to question the effectiveness of our system," said Greg Strobel, one of several U.S. assistants who played musical corner-coaches throughout the tournament. "When you coach by committee it can be a problem."
No one except Strobel, who has already announced he will not be an Olympic coach in the future, mentioned the U.S. system as a partial culprit in the failure of this team, which, on paper, was strong enough to win six golds. But the system should be looked at. Bruce Burnett is the national team coach and technically in charge of the program. But Olympic tri-coaches were designated in the persons of Dan Gable, John Smith and Strobel. Gable and Smith are legends of the sport and, not incidentally, strong personalities with no great love for each other. In addition, the delegation included several other assistants who also took a seat in the corner from time to time. "The worst thing you can do in coaching is overcoach," said Strobel, "and when you have this many coaches involved that can happen."
The next day, 187.25-pounder Charles Burton was ahead 2-1 with 12 seconds left in his quarterfinal match against Mogamed Ibragimov of Moldova but seemed to relax, giving up a three-point throw to lose 4-2 and subsequently drawing an earful of grief from Gable. Heavyweight Kerry McCoy lost an entertaining 8-7 quarterfinal match to 21-year-old Uzbekistan stud Artur Taymazov that resulted in a U.S. protest. When officials went to the videotape, they found that several crucial minutes had been erased. What are these guys running, an Olympic bout or a rerun of The Wonder Years? After another tape was found, declared official, reviewed and re-scored, McCoy still came out a loser, this time by a score of 11-9. At 127.75 pounds, a U.S. protest of Terry Brands' 6-5 semifinal loss to Alireza Dabir of Iran was also denied. Finally, 152-pounder Lincoln McIlravy who, like Henson and Brands looked clearly superior to his opponent, lost in overtime to Canada's Daniel Igali, 6-3.
Brands and McIlravy, both former University of Iowa wrestlers, came back to win bronze. They deserve a ton of credit, considering they did it on a day when everything else went wrong.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jack McCallum covered the wrestling
competition at the Games for the magazine and CNNSI.com.