By Tim Hipps, FMWRCOctober 1, 2009
HERNING, Denmark (Sept. 30, 2009) - Sgt. 1st Class Dremiel Byers became the United States' second Greco-Roman wrestler to win three world-championship medals by taking the silver in the heavyweight division of the 2009 World Wrestling Championships at the MesseCenter in Herning Sept. 27.
Byers joined three-time heavyweight world championships medalist Matt Ghaffari, who struck silver in 1991 and '98, and bronze in 1995. Byers became the first American to win a world championship medal of every color when he added silver on Sunday to go with his gold from 2002 and bronze from 2007. Team USA won its only Greco-Roman team title in world championship history in 2007.
The 35-year-old wrestler in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program at Fort Carson, Colo., rolled through opponents from Poland, Hungary, Sweden and Germany before getting pinned in the second period of the final match of the weeklong tournament by Cuba's Mijain Lopez, the reigning world and Olympic champion.
"First period, I just wanted to stay in his face and keep it close," said Byers, who will receive a $25,000 bonus from the Living the Dream Medal Fund for winning a silver medal. "I was there to fight. I wasn't going to back down. I wasn't going to worry about what he could do. I just wanted to stay in his face, and it was working."
Byers, who wrestles in the 120-kilogram/264.5-pound weight class, was on top in the par terre during the final 30 seconds of the first period when Lopez stepped over a gut-wrench attempt by Byers to score a one-point reversal.
"I shut down most of his pummel, got on top, and I tried to do my gut wrench or something to make something happen because I'm not used to dealing with a guy with such a long torso," Byers said, describing his attempt to lift the 6-foot-5 Cuban off the mat. "I felt like I could (only) do so much, and when I went to reach up to make something happen, he countered and he got a switch. He couldn't turn me, but he would have won that period anyway because I didn't turn him."
In the second period, Byers got caught attempting two moves at once, and the Cuban affectionately referred to as "King Kong" made him pay.
"We were pummeling again and I was still staying in his face, wasn't worrying about his off-balances, and I was able to get a point by pushing him out (of bounds)," Byers said. "And I knew that this guy wanted to make it big and personal, that he wanted a big throw.
"I let him get an under-hook so I could get him close, so he would go for it," Byers explained. "And I was going to counter. I was going to either Salto him or off-balance him, or catch him to his back. I just didn't give him time enough to step his leg back in and I still went with my Salto, so I got stuck between two moves.
"I picked one and it wasn't there, and I went straight to my back and I couldn't get up."
Byers began his day on the mat with a 1-0, 2-0 victory over Poland's Lukasz Banak and followed with a 2-0, 1-0 conquest of Hungary's Mihaly Deak-Bardos.
"I know he is strong, so I didn't want to make any mistakes," Byers said of the win over Banak. "I was slow rolling at that time. Deak and I have had seven bouts this year, so there is quite a bit of history. I just kept it calm and was able to see my hand raised at the end of that one."
Byers then atoned for a 2008 Olympic loss to Sweden's Jalmar Sjoeberg with a 1-0, 0-1, 1-0 victory in his third match. Sjoeberg, who defeated Byers in Beijing, eventually wrestled back in Herning to win the world bronze medal.
"In that third period, I don't know if it could get any closer than what it was with the Swede trying to turn him," said WCAP Wrestling Coach Staff Sgt. Shon Lewis, who served as a Greco-Roman coach for Team USA throughout the World Championships. "They resorted to a protest, but obviously after looking at the replay, he didn't turn Byers. I don't think Byers could have gone one iota further without giving up points, but that was the right call."
"I got him earlier at a tournament this year, so I knew what his style was and what he was trying to do," said Byers, who in August defeated Sjoeberg in Poland.
Byers advanced to the finals with a 3-0, 0-1, 3-0 victory over Germany's Nico Schmidt, who spent part of the summer training with Byers and his WCAP teammates.
"He stepped his game up quite a bit," Byers said. "He had a great tournament. He beat some guys and introduced his new style. The snap-down he's doing is phenomenal, but his coach taught me the same move, so I wasn't going for it.
"After the semifinals match, I came into a fight, and that's what I was looking for," said Byers, who referred to his career tally against Lopez as "a whole bunch to a little bit."
"My head's down right now," Byers said. "But I touched the finals, and you can always find your way back. ... I learned some stuff about myself that I'm going to have to build on and fix, and some stuff about myself that's there. I'm just going to keep it polished and we're going to get it done."
Although he bowed to the crowd as the referee raised Lopez's hand, Byers is not happy with anything less than a gold-medal performance.
"I didn't get my hand raised, so the mission didn't get accomplished," he said. "It didn't, and it hurts. I want to thank the Army World Class Athlete Program for all the support, and from the Army worldwide - so many people hit me up on my AKO saying that they follow me and they've got my back and they're looking out for me. They want to see big things and they love hearing about our success because it's their success. That means a lot. I appreciate the Army because none of this would be possible if it weren't for them."
Lewis said Byers' best days on the mat lie ahead.
"If anybody was paying attention to the match they noticed the look of shock on Lopez's face when he figured out 'I might have run into my match today,'" Lewis said. "Lopez is a great warrior, an Olympic champ and a world champion. Not because he's my student or because he's in the World Class Athlete Program, but I really believe that Byers is the only guy who can beat him.
"It was a heck of a day, but I'm still confident that our better days are still yet to come. The Byers out here today would have beaten the Byers of 2002 any day, so he's definitely getting better, and that's encouraging. David beat Goliath, so it ain't over."
For the first time in World Wrestling Championships history, three Soldiers represented the Army on Team USA.
Spc. Faruk Sahin, another WCAP wrestler stationed at Fort Carson, sustained a gash above his right eye from a head butt that required 13 stitches during his opening match of the tournament in the Greco-Roman 66-kilogram/145.5-pound division. He prevailed 2-0, 1-0 over Mikhail Siamionov of Belarus in that match.
Bloody-eyed and bandaged, Sahin lost his second match, 2-0, 0-2, 1-0, to Germany's Markus Thatner.
"The blood didn't stop," Sahin said. "It was bleeding over the wrap and going over my eye. I felt uncomfortable, but it was okay. I just didn't have a good lock and I stepped out of the zone. I was beating him until that last two seconds when I lost the match.
"I was very proud to represent the United States of America, the World Class Athlete Program, and the 423rd Transportation Unit," added Sahin, a Turkish native who attained U.S. citizenship in 2004. "Some of my friends from the 423rd went overseas and fought in Iraq and I was wrestling during that time. I was thinking about them for my matches, so it was more than wrestling for me. I will continue to get better every day."
"He wrestled tough," Lewis said. "This is the world level. It doesn't get any bigger than this. He came out ready to compete and just fell a little short. It's his first time at the worlds and definitely something he can build on."
Pfc. Jeremiah Davis, another WCAP wrestler from Fort Carson, lost his first match of the tournament, 2-0, 3-1, to Serkan Ozden of Turkey in the Greco 60-kilogram/145.5-pound division.
Ozden won his next two matches before losing in the quarterfinals to Olympic champion Astanbek Khushtov of Russia. Because Ozden did not reach the finals, Johnson was eliminated after losing one match. The waiting, perhaps, was the hardest part for Davis.
"It's rough having to sit in the back and wait," he said. "It's a helpless feeling and kind of a frustrating situation. My side of the bracket was loaded with the Olympic champion from Russia and the world champion from Georgia, but you can't worry about that. You have to be ready for everybody."
"Jeremiah just has to keep working and learn to pull the trigger," Lewis said. "He's still doing a little too much thinking, but making the world team was a big accomplishment. Now we've just got to take it to the next level."