On Sunday night the last U.S. hope for a gold medal was Gutches. He had been wrestling since he was seven years old, since he discovered a wrestling trophy in a box in his family's double-wide trailer in Rogue River, Ore. He asked his father what the little gold man on the trophy was doing. His father, a former wrestler, moved some furniture to one side of the trailer and showed him. That was the beginning.
Gutches had stormed through the Krasnoyarsk tournament, still stuck with the vision of that little gold man. "Go over to the arena, wrestle, come back to the hotel room," he said. "That's been my life here. Wrestle, room. I haven't slept much. I've been reading. I'm a Trekkie. I bet I've read 1,200 pages and done 30 crossword puzzles."
In late December he'd had disk surgery, but his back had been fine since then. He survived the trial—three close, grinding matches with 1992 Olympian Kevin Jackson. He defeated '96 Olympic champion Khadzhimurad Magomedov of Russia in the world semifinals. Gutches approached the final as if another moment like it might never arrive. The evidence of his lifetime of work was his ears, brutally gnarled cauliflower ears, wrestler's ears, gargoyles attached to the sides of his head. "They're not too bad," he said. "Not if you already have a girlfriend. Which I do."
He told a story. This summer he and his brother and three other wrestlers went to a Burger King in Corvallis, where Gutches was working at a wrestling camp. The waitress asked them if they all were related. They asked why she asked. She said, "Because you all look like you have the same birth defect with your cars." What are you going to do?
His opponent in the final was the Ukrainian. Gutches had never wrestled the Ukrainian but had watched his matches at these championships and on film. Gutches's main worry was overeagerness, nerves. He had not slept the night before the final. A celebration had taken place outside the hotel—City Day, an annual Krasnoyarsk event. A rock concert in the plaza had attracted thousands of people. A Russian rock concert outside the window on the night before the biggest day of his life? Gutches said he wouldn't have slept anyway.
He went to the arena, went to the special workout room in the back. The Ukrainian coaches stood next to him as he warmed up, practiced. They seemed to stare straight into his soul. He practiced moves he wouldn't use in the match, simply to confuse them. The Ukrainian wrestler was no more than five yards away, also practicing. Gutches noticed a string of scabs across the Ukrainian's forehead, scabs that had been accumulated in earlier bouts. There were also scabs on the Ukrainian's gargoyle right ear. "Uh-oh," Gutches said. "I know what this is going to be like."
The only other American to reach a final, Kolat, had been involved in a strange bout with the Iranian on Saturday. The Iranian had taken an early lead and then stalled his way to a title. Every time Kolat tried to establish momentum, the Iranian called for an injury timeout, holding a shoulder or leg. The referees had been cautioned about allowing this behavior on Sunday, but the Ukrainian's scabs would leave them little choice.
He seemed to bleed from the start. The blood came first from the ear and then from the forehead. Gutches's head would bump the Ukrainian's head, and more blood would end up in Gutches's blond hair. The referee would stop the match, attendants in Marx Brothers white doctors' smocks would try to stop the bleeding, and the wrestling would continue on its stuttering course.
The Ukrainian took a 1-0 lead at 2:00, but that was all the scoring in the regulation five minutes. In overtime Gutches caught the Ukrainian for a quick takedown. Tie score. The match continued to its bloody 1-1 end. The rule in the event of a tie is that the wrestler with fewer passivity calls by the referee is awarded the win. Gutches had fewer passivity calls. He was declared the winner. The champion of the world.
"It's not what I thought it would be," he said, describing his experience on the podium as the U.S. national anthem was played for the only time in Krasnoyarsk. "I was upset with myself. The match shouldn't have been that close. I can't help it. That's the way I think. I'm American. I guess I just want to pin everybody every time." He found a telephone in the arena, borrowed a phone card and called his girlfriend in Corvallis. She too seemed vaguely reserved. Why wasn't she excited? Did she also demand a pin? He realized the time in Corvallis was four in the morning.