WRESTLING: Justin Ruiz delivers gritty comeback performance to win Pan American Championships
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.-Veteran Justin Ruiz has been in his share of pressure matches during his career. But this had to rank as one of the most pressure-packed. Ruiz rallied from behind to pull out a gritty 1-1, 3-2, 3-1 finals win over Cuba's Yosvani Goichochea in the Pan American Championships to qualify the United States for the Olympic Games at 96 kg/211.5 lbs."It feels great,"said Ruiz, a 2005 World bronze medalist."Coming in here, I knew I had to get it done. I didn't want to travel overseas to qualify."American T.C. Dantzler fought valiantly, but came up short in dropping a 1-1, 2-4, 1-1 decision to Peru's Sixto Ochoa in the finals at 74 kg/163 lbs. Ochoa qualifies Peru for the Olympics at 74 kilos. Dantzler (Colorado Springs, Colo./Gator WC) is a five-time U.S. World Team member. Dantzler needed to turn Ochoa in the final 30 seconds of the match, but was unable to gain the points with his reverse-lift hold."I can't explain how bad I feel,"Dantzler said."I feel at the bottom of the Earth. I let myself down, my country down, everybody down. I have never been so low."Joe Betterman (Colorado Springs, Colo./USOEC/New York AC) earned a bronze medal after downing Milton Guallpa of Ecuador at 60 kg/132 lbs. The Americans have now qualified five of the seven weight classes in Greco-Roman for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China. The U.S. qualified the other four classes at the 2007 World Championships. The U.S. still has two more chances to qualify for the Olympics at 60 kilos and 74 kilos. Greco-Roman qualifiers remain in May in Rome and in Serbia. The U.S. failed to qualify for the Olympics at 74 kilos in 2004, the only time in U.S. history it has not qualified a weight class for the Olympics. Cuban crowned five champions to capture the Greco-Roman team title on Friday night at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Cuba finished with 67 points and the U.S. was second with 61 points. Venezuela was third with 36 points. Ruiz lost the first period and nearly lost the second when some confusion among the officials nearly cost him the match even though he had won the period 3-2. Ruiz took a 1-0 lead after not being turned in the first 30-second segment of the second period. Ruiz then turned the Cuban, but both wrestlers were awarded two points in the exchange. The scoreboard read 2-2 and the officials nearly raised the Cuban's hand before the American coaches vehemently protested. The mistake was finally corrected and Ruiz won the period 3-2."There are a lot of countries that want to see anyone but the U.S. win,"Ruiz said."My coaches told me not to worry because I already had one point. My coaches fought for the point and I got the win."Ruiz's superior conditioning was evident as he won the third period 3-1. Ruiz pumped his right fist in celebration of the win. Ruiz, a four-time World Team member, will look to make his first Olympic Team at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in June."He got a little tired, and was a little hurt,"Ruiz said of his Cuban opponent."He broke. He didn't have a good period and I was able to take advantage of that."The U.S. also competed in the four weight classes it has already qualified for the Olympics. Chas Betts (St. Michael, Minn./USOEC/Minnesota Storm) fell to Cuba's Yunior Estrada 3-1, 3-0 in the finals at 84 kg/185 lbs. Russ Davie (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) fell to two-time World champion Mijial Lopez of Cuba in the finals at 120 kg/264.5 lbs. Lopez scored a second-period pin over Davie. Jacob Curby (LaGrange, Ill./USOEC/Gator WC) beat Panama's Alvis Almendra in the third-place match at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. Josh Habeck (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army) went 1-3 in the round-robin format at 55 kg/121 lbs. He won one of the two bronze medals awarded in that division. The three-day Pan American Championships continue Saturday with competition in women's freestyle and Sunday with the freestyle competition. 2007 World Team member Marcie Van Dusen (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) will look to earn a gold medal at 55 kg/121 lbs. on Saturday and qualify her weight class for the Olympics. The U.S. has already qualified in the other three weight classes for women that will compete in the Olympics. Other Greco-Roman wrestlers who qualified their countries for the Olympics on Friday were Cuba's Yagnier Hernandez (55 kg/121 lbs.), Roberto Monzon (60 kg/132 lbs.) and Alain Milian (66 kg/145.5 lbs.) along with Ari Taub of Canada at 120 kg/264.5 lbs.