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By Mike Finn
Tommy Rowlands has been close before when it comes to qualifying for a spot on the United States Olympic team in freestyle, finishing second in 2008 to Steve Mocco at heavyweight.
RETURN TO WIN’S OLYMPIC TRIALS SECTION
The former NCAA champion from Ohio State has also competed in a World championship at the 264.5-pound freestyle weight class.
But the dream of wearing the red, white and blue singlet in the Olympics is what’s driving the 30-year-old native of Columbus, Ohio, so much that he felt it was time to wrestle at a weight where he could control his own destiny.
That is why Rowlands chose to cut some weight and compete at 211.5-pound at the 2012 Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City.
“I lost in 2008 the best two out of three and I don’t want to go to the clinch again. I want to win the right way,” said Rowlands, who won three matches in Saturday’s Challenge Tournament in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and will now meet 2011 World bronze medalist in the best 2-of-3 Championship Series tonight, starting at 7 p.m (CDT).
Rowlands said he actually made the decision to wrestle at a lighter weight a month before the 2011 World Team Trials but would not have had enough time to make the cut; something that is no longer a factor.
“I have (the weight) under control,” Rowlands said. “It was a factor but when you step on the mat you expect to win. I lost fair and square to some people all throughout the year, but right now I don’t notice that I’m cutting weight.”
After a first-round bye, Rowlands defeated in order David Zabriske, Craig Brester and Chris Pendleton, who oddly gained weight to compete at 211.5 pounds. The former Oklahoma State national champion and current assistant coach at Wyoming competed at 185 pounds in 2011.
Rowland’s meetings with Varner tonight will be one of nine weight classes — half of the 18 Olympic weights in three different styles — that will take place Saturday night and most of them will determine who will represent the United States in London this August.
The other nine weights will be determined on Sunday in the two-day event.
In the two men’s freestyle weight classes, former Oklahoma State national champion Coleman Scott will face Logan Stieber, the 2012 NCAA titlist from Ohio State, at 132 pounds, while Challenge tournament winner Andrew Howe will face 2011 World champion Jordan Burroughs.
Oddly, the winner of tonight’s Championship Series will not be guaranteed a spot on this year’s Olympic team.
The 132-pound weight class has not been qualified yet — the top ranked wrestlers Shawn Bunch and Reece Humphrey were preparing for Olympic qualifying tournaments the next two weeks and did not compete in this year’s Trials — and both Burroughs and Varner would not be eliminated from the Games if they lose to Howe and Rowlands because they were medal winners in last fall’s World Championships.
If Burroughs and Varner both win, they would qualify for the Olympics. If they lose, they would all compete in an international tournament later this spring when the higher place finisher would represent the U.S. in the Olympics.
The 163-pound final tonight is a rematch of last year’s World Team Trials, which Burroughs won before capturing a gold medal in the 2011 Worlds. Howe, a 2010 NCAA champion from Wisconsin, took an Olympic redshirt this season from college wrestling to focus on earning a spot on the 2012 U.S. team.
But first he must find a way to stop Burroughs’ double-leg attack.
“I just have to keep my head and hands in good position, blocking all his doubles, closing the gap and staying low,” said Howe.
There will be four Greco-Roman matches determined tonight:
• 2008 Olympian Spenser Mango will meet Max Nowry at 121 pounds;
• former Minnesota Gopher C.P. Schlatter will face former World medalist Justin Lester at 145.5 pounds;
• Jordan Holm will face Chas Betts at 185 pounds;
• Dremiel Byers, the 2002 World champion and 2008 Olympian, will wrestle Steve Andrus, who wrestled at heavyweight for Michigan State this season and earned a wildcard to compete in this year’s Trials.
In the two women’s freestyle matches, Challenge tournament winner Kelsey Campbell will take on Helen Maroulis at 121 pounds and Stephany Lee faces 2008 Olympian Ali Bernard at 158.5 pounds. Both Maroulis and Bernard did not compete in the Challenge tournament after winning the U.S. Open in December.