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Miranda likely to advance to medal round

8/22/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Toccara Montgomery's opening match in the
first Olympic women's wrestling tournament couldn't have been much
tougher. Now, one of the world's best wrestlers is likely to leave
Athens without a medal.

Montgomery, a former world wrestler of the year, drew five-time
world champion Kyoko Hamaguchi of Japan in her opening pool match
Sunday at 158½ pounds (72kg) and lost 8-4, meaning there is almost
no chance she can medal.

The other three U.S. wrestlers all won, with 105½-pounder (48kg)
Patricia Miranda winning twice, and Sara McMann and Tela O'Donnell
once each against tough opponents.

Miranda, a 2003 world runner-up, is all but sure of making the
medal round after rallying to beat former world champion Li Hui of
China 8-5 and Larisa Oorzhak of Russia 7-3. Miranda needed only to
beat Caripa Mayelis of Venezuela later Sunday to advance from her
four-woman pool.

Montgomery's loss was her third in her last four matches to
Hamaguchi, a tough-looking and technically sound wrestler who is
the daughter of longtime Japanese pro wrestling star Heigo "The
Animal'' Hamaguchi.

It was just the match -- and the result -- Montgomery didn't want
after spending years wrestling on her boys' high school team in
Cleveland and moving to a small Kentucky town to attend one of only
six U.S. colleges that have a women's wrestling team.

"I just didn't wrestle well,'' Montgomery said. "I'm always
down after a loss, what can you do?''

Montgomery's only chance was to beat Stanka Hristova of Bulgaria
in her other three-wrestler pool match Sunday, then hope Hristova
somehow beats Hamaguchi, arguably the world's best freestyle
wrestler.

While Montgomery and Hamaguchi found themselves in one loaded
pool, two of the other four pools at 158½ pounds are much weaker.
As a result, one of the two finalists won't be among the top five
in last year's world championships.

"It's a hit for us,'' Miranda said of Montgomery's loss.

Montgomery's disappointment went even deeper because this likely
will be her only Olympics. Though she is only 21, she expects to
graduate from Cumberland College next year, then enter the job
market. She plans to stay in sports, just not wrestling.

"I'm going to find a sport where you don't have to make
weight,'' she said.

McMann, who grew up in the wrestling hotbed of Lock Haven, Pa.,
pinned former world champion Meng Lili of China in 2 minutes, 1
second, at 138½ pounds (63kg). She automatically made the medal
round if she beat Viola Yanik of Canada later Sunday.

O'Donnell made up for a technical-fall loss to Russia's Olga
Smirnova earlier this year at 121 pounds (55kg), rallying from a
5-0 deficit by pinning her in 4:26. O'Donnell needed to beat Tonya
Verbeek of Canada later Sunday to make the semifinals.

"I didn't want to fall behind her so I could come back and
win,'' said O'Donnell, a former high school football player in
Homer, Alaska. "I didn't panic, because that's when you make big
mistakes.''

O'Donnell said all the U.S. team members are beginning to
understand the significance of the Olympics' acceptance of their
sport.

"I think that's what all the hype is about,'' she said.
"Wrestling is in the Olympics, and everyone can see it's a
legitimate sport. A girl can watch it and say, 'Hey, I can do
this.' ''

Miranda said was less philosophical about Sunday's debut of
women's wrestling, saying, "I have decided to think only about the
moment. I need to focus on the next two days.''