The Uzbek representatives protested. They said their wrestler's attack had caused Saitiev to land on his forehead. A point should have been awarded to their man for exposure before Saitiev's point was scored. The first point would have given their man three points, end of match. The match should have been over while the two wrestlers were in the air. A videotape of the match was consulted. The protest was upheld. The Uzbek wrestler was declared the winner.
An estimated 400 angry Chechens gathered outside the arena after the night's matches were finished. The Chechens demanded that the final decision for the Uzbek be reversed. They threatened violence. They threatened to kidnap FILA president Milan Ercegan of Serbia. A harried Uzbek official appeared and tried to withdraw his team's successful protest. Riot troops with Kalashnikov rifles arrived as a group of Chechens were threatening to break into the dressing rooms. The tournament officials said they would have a meeting to discuss all of this.
"It was pretty hairy," Larry Sciacchetano, the U.S. representative to the FILA bureau, said. "The guy from Uzbekistan who wanted to withdraw the protest...you had to wonder. He had already won the protest, but he either a) had been threatened or b) had been paid some money. In the end, we did the right thing. We upheld the protest. It was a terrific decision for wrestling."
The decision—and the Chechen threats—brought increased security to the proceedings on Saturday. Corridors that once were open now were blocked by security guards with walkie-talkies. The arena's entrances and exits were guarded. Tickets and badges were checked closely. The Chechens never made a move.
Late on the morning card, Erikson wrestled in the semifinals. His opponent was the Cuban. The Cuban was a beefy 19-year-old kid. Erikson had wrestled him a year earlier, beaten him 1-0. The Cuban, alas, had improved. In regulation he took a 2-0 lead with a counter with exposure. In overtime Erikson picked up one point on a takedown, and he tried and tried but never got leverage. He opened himself one time too often on an attempted gut wrench with 33 seconds left. The Cuban countered, turning Erikson and throwing him to the mat. The Cuban won 4-1 and started to celebrate. Erikson looked at him sharply and shook a finger. The celebration stopped.
"I just couldn't get him," Erikson said later. "I don't know. I don't know."
He sat on a couch in the lobby of the hotel with his disappointment. There really wasn't anyplace else to go. He tried to talk himself down. He talked and talked. Mitch Hull, the national-teams director for U.S. Wrestling, appeared. He tried some motivational words. He said the meet was not done. "Hey, go for third," he said. "That's not bad, third in the world. We need the points for the team. Plus, there's some money involved."
The Russian federation promised modest awards to the winners: $8,000 for first place, $3,000 for second, $2,000 for third. Erikson didn't know the amounts, really didn't care. He was offended by talk of the money. His monthly stipend from U.S. Wrestling is $900. Besides working as an assistant coach at Purdue, he sometimes competes in Tough Man competitions to stay solvent. "This isn't about money, Mitch," he said. "Don't get me wrong. I'll take the money. Thank you very much. But to put a value on what we do? To say, 'Here's a couple of thousand bucks'? That's demeaning. Andre Agassi makes more money than any of us just for putting on his shoes. How much is a world title worth? If a Michael Jordan is worth so much for his world title, then how much should a Bruce Baumgartner be worth for all of his? To talk to me about money, a couple of thousand bucks. Do you think that's why we're here?"
Hull mumbled a response and left quickly. Erikson, steamed, continued. "The Iranian, he wins a world title, he'll be set for life. Look how the Russian wrestlers live. They're important people in this country. American wrestlers can't even buy a house with what we make, can't even live without another job. You think we're in this for money?"
His shoulder was killing him. His heart hurt much worse.