Miranda likely to advance to medal round

Updated: August 22, 2004, 7:01 AM ET
Associated Press

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.''


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press