Two-time World bronze medalist Harry Lester ready to make run at gold at 2009 Worlds
Harry Lester is one of the most talented wrestlers on the planet.
He's a two-time World bronze medalist, and helped lead the American squad to its only World Championships team title in U.S. Greco-Roman history in 2007.
The 25-year-old also has dealt with his share of injuries and ailments in recent years.
"I'm 25 going on 92," Lester said with a laugh.
Lester has been feeling more like a 25-year-old lately, and that's bad news for the rest of the World. Lester will be one of the favorites in Greco-Roman at 74 kg/163 lbs. when he competes at the World Championships on Sept. 27 in Herning, Denmark.
"Training is going well and I feel great," he said. "I know I will show up and wrestle 100 percent. I am going to leave it all out on the mat, even if they have to carry me off because I'm so tired. I always wrestle my hardest. I will show up and compete, and do what I have to do."
Lester, an Akron, Ohio native, has adjusted well after moving up to 74 kilos this year. He previously competed at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. He hasn't lost a match since moving up this year.
"I still feel small for the weight - those guys are obviously a lot bigger and stronger," he said. "I just have to make up for that with my athletic ability. I have to wrestle smart."
The new Greco-Roman rules, where the first 90 seconds of a two-minute period are wrestled on the feet, also work to Lester's advantage.
Lester excels on his feet. If he gains a takedown and has the lead after 90 seconds, he will be in the top position to start the final 30 seconds of the period.
"I love the rules," he said. "If I can take guys down, I'm going to be in good shape."
It's been an exciting time for Lester. He welcomed a new member into his family last week. His girlfriend, Staci, gave birth to their daughter, Zuriana, this past Friday.
"It's exciting," Lester said. "My cheeks still hurt because I've been smiling so much."
Lester has been training at the U.S. Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University. Two of his teammates on the U.S. World Team, Spenser Mango and Chas Betts, also train there.
Lester's close friend, Mango, competed in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China. Mango placed eighth at 55 kg/121 lbs.
"If Spenser goes out and executes what he usually does, he is going to win," Lester said. "I'm glad I will be there with him this time. I will push him, and I will try to help him stay relaxed and have fun out there. He has the experience now after the Olympics. I think it will be a different story this year. Spenser's my bet on the first champion for the U.S."
Lester will compete on the final day of the seven-day World Championships. In the past, Lester has competed on the first day of the Worlds when Greco-Roman went first and he was wrestling at 66 kg/145.5 lbs.
"I'm really mad about that," Lester said with a laugh. "Some of my teammates are going to be sitting around eating McDonald's and I'm still going to be watching my weight. I loved FILA up until they had me wrestling the last day. I would rather go first."
One of the reasons Lester's weight class is on the final day of the event is because Greco-Roman is a style Denmark excels in.
Denmark's Mark Madsen, the wrestler in Lester's weight class, is among the best in the World. The 24-year-old Madsen has medaled in the last three World Championships at 74 kilos. He was a World silver medalist in 2005 and 2007, and won a World bronze medal in 2006.
Madsen and Lester wrestled each other last year at 74 kilos in a tournament in Hungary. Madsen won in a match that went three periods. Lester was still competing at 66 kilos at the time, but bumped up a weight class for that tournament. They also worked out recently when Madsen trained at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
"Last year, Madsen beat me on a caution," Lester said. "He's a beast. He's one of the most intense wrestlers I've ever wrestled. He's the real deal, and he will be wrestling in his home country. It will be a good challenge if we wrestle, but I'm definitely ready for it."
Lester vividly remembers the last time the World Championships were held, in 2007 in Baku, Azerbaijan. He lost a controversial semifinal match before coming back to win a bronze medal. The U.S. then earned a dramatic one-point win over Russia for the team title after teammate Brad Vering won a silver medal and Dremiel Byers won a bronze medal.
Vering is not wrestling this year, but Byers is still competing.
"Winning the team title at the Worlds is one of the most exciting things I've ever been a part of," Lester said. "We finally came together and showed we are a powerhouse in Greco-Roman. We won it without our returning World champion (Joe Warren), and we won it without having an individual champion that year. It showed how much we are progressing."
Lester and Byers are the only wrestlers from the 2007 team who are competing in the Worlds this year in Greco-Roman. Byers is a past World champion.
"All of the guys up and down our lineup are solid," Lester said. "I know we can do real well as a team. The first-year guys we have are still solid wrestlers who have competed in a lot of international events."