By Tim HippsAugust 20, 2010
LAHTI, Finland -- Sgt. Iris Smith, a wrestler in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, took home a gold medal during the Conseil International du Sport Militaire's 27th Annual World Military Wrestling Championships in Lahti, Finland, Aug. 14.
The CISM included women's wrestling in their program for the first time this year, and Smith, a former World champion, won the 158.5-pound freestyle division.
"It's something I've asked about for years," Smith said. "I can't believe it's here. I've been in the Army for 10 years. That's a long time. I'm definitely honored."
Spc. Othella Lucas, who took a one year hiatus from the mat before joining WCAP, also medaled in the inaugural CISM tournament for women. She captured the bronze medal in the 138.75-pound weight class.
"This is just the beginning of my international medals," Lucas said. "I really feel honored. When our flag was getting raised, I was just like: Yes!"
Army WCAP wrestler Pfc. Sharon Jacobson completed the U.S. women's team with a fourth-place finish at 121 pounds. All three of those weight classes will be contested at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
CISM U.S. Team Captain Van Stokes, the Deputy Director of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation at Fort Campbell, Ky., was impressed with the women's performances in Lahti, where seven nations sent 19 female wrestlers onto the mat: China, Belarus, Poland, USA, Germany, Finland and Kazakhstan.
"It's a great start to women's wrestling in CISM," Stokes said. "Iris Smith was a world champion in 2005, so she brought all the qualities of a world champion to the competition. They wrestled with heart. They carried themselves as Soldiers. And they were great team members.
"The caliber of women's wrestling was truly outstanding, and for two of our three women to come home with medals was a truly great feat. They were every bit the champions that their male counterparts were."
U.S. Armed Forces Sports Secretariat Suba Saty said the female Soldier-athletes should tip their berets to the Finns for allowing women to wrestle in the tournament. There is no host country yet for 2011 because Brazil is not hosting wrestling as part of CISM's 5th Military World Games in Rio de Janeiro. Host countries for the Military World Games have the option of which CISM sports they host.
"It was the country of Finland that took that responsibility on," Saty explained. "They could have easily said 'we don't want to do it.' It was good to know that Finland took the step of adding it on. We think it's great, especially because some of our women medaled, and a gold medal, to boot.
"CISM is looking at promoting women's sports in all the sports," Saty added. "In fact, we even looked at possibly adding women for boxing, but there were not enough countries to do that."
It was generally accepted that women would continue to be a part of CISM wrestling, Stokes said.
Smith, a four-time national champion, relied on her experience to rally for a 1-1, 0-1, 3-0 victory over China's Lijun Yang in her first match. Trailing in the first period, Smith gained the deciding point when Yang was cautioned for passivity. Yang dropped Smith with an ankle grab for the lone point of the second period. Late in the third, Smith earned a takedown and a quick turn at the buzzer for the victory.
In her second match, Smith defeated 2008 Olympic silver medalist Agnieszka Wieszczek of Poland, 1-0, 1-0. Smith prevailed 3-0, 5-3 in her final match against Volha Khilko of Belarus by breaking a 3-3 tie with two takedowns in the second period.
"I knew I could score that point," Smith said. "I can't take anything away from my opponent, but I felt confident throughout the match. I just had to minimize my mistakes."
Lucas secured her bronze medal with a 1-0, 0-1, 2-0 victory over Hanna Savenia of Belarus. Lucas won the first period with a single-leg takedown at the 1:45 mark. Savenia took the second period with a takedown off a scramble. The final period went to Lucas, who scored with a body lock and a strong double-leg attack.
"In the third period, I changed my levels more," Lucas said. "I was going upper body at first and that's not where I'm comfortable. As soon as I changed my levels, it seemed like she was walking into my shots.
"I went back to my style - low stance and more motion - in the third period and I felt confident that my conditioning was good enough to push the pace."
In the semifinals, eventual gold medalist Haiyan Xu of China pinned Lucas with 51 seconds remaining in the second period. Lucas won her quarterfinal match, 2-4, 4-0, 4-3, over Lyudmila Mironova of Kazakhstan.