All was going right for a surprisingly good U.S. freestyle team
Friday, with Sanderson, Jamill Kelly and Stephen Abas all going
unbeaten, until McCoy unexpectedly took a tumble that left him
without a medal for the second straight games.
McCoy was tossed by Marid Mutalimov of Kazakhstan 11 seconds
into overtime, a 3-point move that sent Mutalimov into the medal
round at 264½ pounds (120kg) and a somber McCoy home to Bethlehem,
Pa. He announced his retirement immediately afterward, saying, "It
was just not meant to be for me to win an Olympic medal."
McCoy's loss was similar to that of U.S. Greco-Roman
264½-pounder Rulon Gardner two days before. Both were thrown early
in overtime and lost 4-1 to a Kazakhstan wrestler. Both had
gold-medal hopes. Both retired, though Gardner wrestled one more
match for the bronze.
But McCoy, 30, didn't think of leaving his shoes on the mat as
Gardner did, if only because the loss came so suddenly and so
unexpectedly. This wasn't a time for ceremony, it was a time to be
Another difference: Gardner leaves the Olympics with a gold and
bronze. McCoy leaves only with unpleasant memories.
"I didn't make it happen," said McCoy, a world runner-up last
year and two-time NCAA champion at Penn State. "I just know I'm
done with wrestling, and I don't have to put up with this any more.
... I'm happy to be done, and just move on to other things. It's
terrible to lose."
McCoy beat Mutalimov 5-0 in last year's world championships, but
wrestled more tentatively than he did then.
"He was nervous. He was all nerves," said Greg Strobel,
McCoy's coach. "The guy kept poking him in the eye and he probably
should have been given a couple of penalty points. But McCoy didn't
make a mistake (in overtime) -- the other guy just went out first."
And now McCoy is out first, the only American loss in 11 matches
Friday. Abas (3-0) had by far the toughest draw of the four
Americans, while Kelly (2-0) had the least amount of international
experience, yet both won out.
"I didn't want to be the one that lost," Kelly said.
Sanderson, the most successful college wrestler ever while going
159-0 at Iowa State, won three times at 185 pounds (84kg) and will
meet Cuba's Yoel Romero in the semifinals Saturday. Sanderson
rallied from two points down in the final minute to beat Iran's
Majid Khodaei 6-5 in overtime in his final match of the day.
Sanderson, often stoic and emotionless on the mat, revealed some
of his personality by clapping his hands and looking angry several
times -- especially when Khodaei was awarded two points for back
exposure on a roll Sanderson initiated.
"It's a tough call. ... But I felt good out there, I felt like
I was having fun even when I was behind," said Sanderson, who won
it with three successive takedowns. "I knew I could score even
when I was behind."
Unlike McCoy, Sanderson -- also a world silver medalist last year -- didn't appear to have a case of Olympics nerves.
"It's hard to believe you're finally at the games, that you're
within a few minutes from stepping on the mat, but it's really like
every tournament," Sanderson said.
Only with a lot more people watching. Now, to win the gold, he
must improve his combined 0-4 against Romero (0-2) and Russian
world champion Sazhid Sazhidov, who is in the opposite bracket.
Abas, a former Fresno State wrestler who was fifth in the world
last year, beat world No. 2 Ghenadie Tulbea, Moldova, 6-1; and 2002
world champion Rene Montero, Cuba, 4-3, to win his pool, then beat
China's Li Zhengyu 6-1 in the quarterfinals.
"When you see a guy who got a bad draw like that winning, sure,
it gets you going," Sanderson said.
Kelly, one of three former Oklahoma State wrestlers on the U.S.
team, won his three-man pool at 145½ pounds (66kg), then got a
break with a bye into the semifinals. He meets Makhach Murtazaliev,
who beat out 2003 world champion Irbek Farniev to make the Russian