When Terry Brands retired from wrestling in September 1999, he felt he was bringing a merciful end to a career that had been in a tail-spin since the 1996 U.S. Olympic trials. There Brands, the favorite at 126 pounds, had lost in the finals to Kendall Cross, who went on to win the gold medal in Atlanta. Brands then missed the '98 season with a hip injury. Last year, suffering from a string of blackouts and headaches that doctors were unable to explain, he'd finally had enough. "It was scary," he says. "I really thought I was done."
Calling it quits may have been the wisest career move that the 32-year-old Brands ever made. Always considered tightly wound, even for a wrestler, he had ridden a monster work ethic to three national and two world titles. Soon after his retirement the blackouts stopped, never to return, and Brands realized that he had never accounted for growing older. "The harder I went, the worse I felt," he says. "I used to get up at 4:30 to work out, come back at 11, again at six, and then go for a sauna. I can't do that anymore. I finally learned to back off."
After a winter of scaled-back training, Brands took aim at Sydney. His twin brother, Tom, was the gold medalist in Atlanta at 137 pounds, and until this summer (when Terry joined the staff at Nebraska) the two were assistant coaches at Iowa, their alma mater. Yet Tom tried to dissuade Terry from coming back. "He thought I might be doing it for the wrong reasons," Terry says. "That was easy for him to say. He's got the gold."
Admitted to the June trials as a past world team member, Brands tore through the competition, beating U.S. champ Kerry Boumans in the final. Two days later he was in Iowa City with his wife, Michelle, as she gave birth to their daughter, whom the couple named Sydney. "I wouldn't be going if I didn't think I could win," Brands says. "I'm better than I was. Four years better."