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Time was running out for Bill Scherr. With 10 seconds remaining last Saturday in the final wrestling match of his career, Scherr was nursing a pulled groin muscle and trailing Andrei Golovko of the Soviet Union, 1-0. Scherr knew what was at stake: A win in this, the 220-pound match of the team final, would secure the Goodwill Games gold medal for the U.S. A loss would leave the Soviets only one point behind with one match to go.
With the sellout crowd of 6,741 in Seattle's Hec Edmundson Pavilion screaming encouragement, Scherr reached desperately for Golovko—and got him. "Fortune smiled upon me," said Scherr afterward. "And Golovko made a mistake."
Golovko's error was getting anywhere near Scherr with so little time left. Scherr shot in under Golovko's arms and, with one second left, brought him to the mat and rolled him over for a two-point takedown and a 2-1 win. The partisan crowd exploded. Though the official announcement of the U.S. team's victory would be delayed by Soviet protests of two earlier matches, these fans knew they had just witnessed the biggest upset of the Games.
The U.S. wrestlers had arrived in Seattle with a single daunting goal: Beat the Soviets. Though the U.S. had topped a largely second-line Soviet team this April in the World Cup, the Soviets had won every world and Olympic team championship since 1961. While last week the U.S. clearly was the best of the rest of the eight-team field, the Soviets remained the overwhelming favorite for the team gold.
The Soviet team included five former world champions, among them Olympic gold medalists Arsen Fadzaev (149.5 pounds), Makharbek Khadartsev (198 pounds) and the hulking David Gobedjichvili at 286 pounds. The Soviets were so confident that they brought only 10 wrestlers and no alternates to Seattle.
Against this juggernaut, Seay, who as head coach at Oklahoma State has won the last two NCAA titles, fielded a team made up of both newcomers and established veterans. In addition to Scherr, a 1985 world champion and '88 Olympic bronze medalist, and Scherr's twin brother, Jim (198 pounds), Seay was counting on the redoubtable John Smith. Smith, a 24-year-old Oklahoma State graduate, is a two-time world champion and the 1988 Olympic champion at 136.5 pounds. He would be joined by another Cowboy alum, 1988 Seoul gold-medalist Kenny Monday (180.5 pounds), and Bruce Baumgartner (286 pounds), a former NCAA champ for Indiana State who was the 1984 Olympic champ and '88 silver medalist.
For the Scherr brothers, the Goodwill Games held an extra measure of importance. Forecast as possible gold medalists before the 1988 Olympics, the Scherrs had returned to their hometown of Mobridge, S.Dak., with but one medal between them—Bill's bronze. Seattle would be a shot at redemption.
"I don't look back," said Jim before the meet. "But a gold here would be nice."
Bill was less circumspect. "The Olympics were my biggest disappointment," he said. "A gold medal here could go a long way toward making up for that."