WRESTLING: Henry Cejudo scores dramatic pin to win Pan American Championships; U.S. wins team title
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.-Henry Cejudo is ready to live up to all the hype. Struggling entering the Pan American Championships, after dropping 5 of his last 6 matches, Cejudo issued a huge statement Sunday that he is serious about winning an Olympic gold medal in 2008. Cejudo emerged on top in a wild scramble with 2007 World bronze medalist Andy Moreno of Cuba and recorded a dramatic second-period pin in the freestyle finals at 55 kg/121 lbs. at the U.S. Olympic Training Center."I had to turn it up,"said Cejudo, who won his third straight Pan American Championships title."After the first period, I had to pick up the pace and stay after him. It was a big win for me against a tough opponent."Americans Joe Williams and Tommy Rowlands also won titles as the U.S. edged Cuba 64-59 for the team title at the Pan American Championships."We are excited for our champions," U.S. National Coach Kevin Jackson said. "Everybody medaled. Cuba had a strong team, the same team that they took to the World Cup and they were second there. I am excited about the way most of the guys wrestled. There were some great individual efforts." Cejudo (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) had already qualified the U.S. for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China by virtue of reaching the finals at 55 kilos. But he gained a much-needed boost by pinning a top-level wrestler like Moreno. Moreno had already qualified Cuba for the Olympics at 55 kilos by virtue of a top-eight finish at the 2007 World Championships. Cejudo lost the first period on the leg clinch, but came back in a huge way in the second. He came out on top in a scramble with Moreno and pressed his shoulders to the mat, setting off a huge ovation as the referee slapped the mat. Cejudo, who just turned 21, had been slowed by neck and shoulder injuries prior to the 2007 Worlds. But Cejudo said he is back healthy now and ready to live up to the lofty expectations placed on him. He was profiled in a four-page feature in Sports Illustrated last June, in addition to a feature in the Los Angeles Times. Cejudo beat Moreno twice in 2007, in the Pan American Championships and Pan American Games, but Moreno rebounded to win a bronze medal at the World Championships. Cejudo lost in the first round at the Worlds as he was less than 100 percent physically. Cejudo now takes aim at qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Team."First is Nationals, then the Trials, then Beijing,"Cejudo said."I have to make the U.S. team first. That's the next step. I feel like I'm right where I need to be right now. I just have to keep working hard."Past World silver medalist Mike Zadick (Solon, Iowa/Gator WC) came up short of qualifying his weight class for the Olympics after dropping a controversial match to past World champion Guivi Sissaouri of Canada in the quarterfinals at 60 kg/132 lbs. Zadick won a bronze medal on Sunday. The U.S. now has two freestyle qualifiers left-in Switzerland and Poland-to qualify that class for the Olympics. The U.S. has now qualified 14 of 18 overall weight classes for the 2008 Olympics. The U.S. has two more opportunities apiece in each style to qualify classes for Beijing. The Americans still need to qualify in Greco-Roman at 60 kg/132 lbs. and 74 kg/163 lbs. Men's freestyle needs to qualify at 60 kg/132 lbs. and women's freestyle needs to qualify at 55 kg/121 lbs. The Americans fared well in the other five weight classes it has already qualified for the Olympics. In the finals at 120 kg/264.5 lbs., Rowlands (Columbus, Ohio/Sunkist Kids) downed Brazil's Antoine Jaoude 2-0, 4-0 in the gold-medal match. Rowlands, a 2007 World Team member, pinned past World champion Alexis Rodriguez of Cuba in his first match Sunday. In the finals at 84 kg/185 lbs., Williams (Belvidere, Ill./Sunkist Kids) downed Colombia's Jarlis Mosquera 1-1, 6-0. Williams is a two-time World bronze medalist and 2004 Olympian. In the finals at 74 kg/163 lbs., Casey Cunningham (Mt. Pleasant, Mich./Sunkist Kids) fell 6-1, 1-0 to Olympic and World bronze medalist Ivan Fundora of Cuba. In the finals at 96 kg/211.5 lbs., Damion Hahn (Ithaca, N.Y./New York AC) dropped a 1-0, 3-0 decision to past World bronze medalist Michel Batista of Cuba. At 66 kg/145.5 lbs., past World Team member Chris Bono (Ringgold, Ga./Sunkist Kids) came back from a close loss to 2007 World silver medalist Geandry Garzon of Cuba to earn a bronze medal. Wrestlers who qualified their countries for the Olympics were Cejudo, Guivi Sissaouri of Canada at 60 kg/132 lbs., Haislan Garcia of Canada at 66 kg/145.5 lbs., Matt Gentry of Canada at 74 kg/163 lbs., Jarlis Mosquera of Colombia at 84 kg/185 lbs., Cuba's Michel Batista at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. and Larry Langdowski of Mexico at 120 kg/264.5 lbs.