By Tim HippsAugust 3, 2007
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Army News Service, Aug. 3, 2007) - U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and former world champion wrestler Staff Sgt. Dremiel Byers won a silver medal in the 120-kilogram Greco-Roman division July 24 at XV Pan American Games Rio 2007.
"In the big scheme of things, medaling is always good, but not for me," said Staff Sgt. Byers, who lost a 1-1, 2-1 decision in the gold-medal match to arch-rival Mijail Lopez of Cuba. "There's a lesson to be learned in whatever happened, but I still think I was supposed to win this one and I dropped the ball.
"I'm going home with some hardware - it's just not what I came here for."
Neither wrestler scored in the first minute before Mr. Lopez won a coin flip. Mr. Lopez eventually won the first period by virtue of scoring last.
Mr. Lopez slipped behind Staff Sgt. Byers and registered a takedown early in the second period. The Cuban won the period 2-1 after neither wrestler scored in the top position.
"It could have went a lot better," Staff Sgt. Byers said. "I was definitely prepared. The coaches and support and everything was there, but I wasn't able to pull it out in the end. I didn't get a turn. I stopped all of his par terre offense, but I had a breakdown on my feet one time that allowed him to get a takedown.
"Right now, I'm disgusted with myself because I'm losing to somebody I know I can beat. It's killing me inside to know that I just lost to a guy I think I'm better than. I have some things I need to work on and correct."
Staff Sgt. Byers also lost to Mr. Lopez at the 2006 Pan Am Championships in nearby Copacabana Beach. The two heavyweights have been squaring off for several years for international titles.
"I've pinned him once and he's beaten me in two close matches," he said. "And last year he beat me pretty good. I was adjusting from last year and I made improvements to stop his stuff, but I think I showed up worrying about his stuff and not executing mine. That's got to stop."
All-Army and Team USA Greco-Roman assistant coach Staff Sgt. Shon Lewis saw the setback as a step in the right direction for Staff Sgt. Byers, who is now focused on the 2007 World Championships Greco-Roman competition Sept. 16-19 in Baku, Azerbaijan.
"With two world champions locking up, you knew it was going to be a tactical match," Staff Sgt. Lewis said. "They go tit for tat, back and forth. They are two guys to look forward to having in the finals at the World Championships. We still have some things we've got to work on. He's getting better, but some things he's got to continue to get better at."
Staff Sgt. Lewis then shared his evaluation of the match with Staff Sgt. Byers as they walked to the team bus.
"You know you want to step to him and take it to him, but you didn't do that," he told Staff Sgt. Byers. "That's understandable because I could tell you were over-concerned that you were off balance, but that's over. Now you've got to start getting your offense on as you stop that off-balance.
"Even on your worst day, stopping his off-balance is going to come down to the coin flip. We're going to win some and lose some with the coin flip, but you know we can't give up those cheap points with the underhook stuff."
The U.S. wrestlers dealt with adversity before arriving in Rio. They were two hours into a flight from Dulles International Airport before returning to Washington because of radar malfunctions at the airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
"This trip has been a little frustrating, but this is where true champions have to overcome the adversity," Team USA wrestling head coach Steve Fraser said. "We had to fly here almost twice and we spent 10 hours waiting around in an airport. People didn't get their sleep and it messed up their weight-cutting routine, but everyone has pulled together.
"Dremiel has really stepped up and helped our team. I can't say enough about the leadership he's provided."
Staff Sgt. Byers, a 2002 world champion, has wrestled internationally enough to know how to Soldier through adversity.
"Getting here was tough," he admitted. "This trip was riddled with adversity, but no matter what obstacles, we just kept pushing through. That's the sign of a champion, when you can push through adversity."
Now Staff Sgt. Byers must find a way to push through Mr. Lopez.
(Tim Hipps writes for Family and Morale, Welfare, Recreation Command Public Affairs.)