Wrestling’s rarely looked at as a team sport, especially at the elite level — one on one, no substitutions, no help beyond shouts from the sidelines.
But Olympic qualifying for Team USA wrestling may be the ultimate team sport — still one on one, still no substitutions, but if a wrestler earns a qualifying bid in his weight class, it doesn’t go directly to that individual: Slap “USA” into the Olympic bracket for now, and whoever wins the U.S. qualifier in Iowa City next month gets the golden ticket.
Need somebody to fight for their country, not just themselves? Find some soldiers. Sgt. 1st Class Dremiel Byers and Sgt. Spenser Mango did just that at the FILA Pan American Olympic Games Qualifying Tournament in Kissimmee, Fla., over the weekend, taking first and second, respectively, in their Greco-Roman weight classes to claim spots in the London games for Team USA.
Both Byers (heavyweight/264.5 pounds) and Mango (121 pounds) are ranked first by TheMat.com in their classes. Byers was not scored upon in three matches en route to the gold in Kissimmee, while Mango fell 1-0, 1-0 to Cuba’s Javier Gonzalez in the final.
Byers and Mango each reached the quarterfinals in Beijing in 2008. Byers was already part of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program; Spenser joined the Army and the WCAP after his Olympic appearance. Spenser’s top competition in Iowa likely will be fellow WCAP member Spc. Jermaine Hodge, ranked second in the nation by TheMat. After Action’s already introduced you to Byers’ top competition.
Byers has qualified for a best-of-three final against the winner of the Iowa City tournament (for a 15-page refresher on qualifying procedures, if you’re curious, go here). “Two matches, and let two matches determine — it better not be three. Just let it fall where it’s going to fall,” he said in an Army write-up. “I’m going to put my best effort forward. I have my teammates behind me and my coach pushing me. Let’s go get some medals.”