LONDON -- Heading into the 2012 Olympic Games, U.S. Greco-Roman coach Steve Fraser believed each of his six wrestlers was capable of earning an Olympic medal in London.
As it turns out, the U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling will leave London without an Olympic medal after the final American Greco-Roman wrestler to take the mat, Justin Lester, was eliminated from the competition on Tuesday night.
It's the third straight year the U.S. has failed to win a medal at a world-level event. Prior to 2010, the U.S. had not been shut out in the medal department at a world-level event in Greco-Roman since 2003.
"We're obviously not that good of a team yet," said Fraser. "Each guy had the potential to win a medal. I believe that. But in reality we've got some real young guys on our team that are going to keep improving. We've got two 21-year-old guys on our team, and we've got a few veteran guys that have been around a long time. It's hard to stay on top in the sport for a long time."
Justin Lester gets ready to step on the mat in London (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)Lester, a two-time World bronze medalist, used two three-point moves in his first match to defeat Tsutomu Fujimura, 3-0, 3-1.
In the quarterfinals Lester squared off against Hungary's Tamas Lorincz, whose previous high finish in a world-level event was fifth. Lester controlled the first period, winning 2-0 with two pushouts. But the 28-year-old American was unable to find his offense the rest of the match as Lorincz took the final two periods 1-0 and 2-0.
Lester caught a break when Lorincz defeated 2011 World silver medalist Manuchar Tskhadaia of Georgia to advance to the finals, which pulled Lester through to the repechage, giving him new life and a chance at a bronze medal.
Lester was then paired with Germany's Frank Staebler, who placed fifth at last year's World Championships. Staebler dominated the match from start to finish. He nearly pinned Lester in the first period after executing a three-point body lock before settling for a 5-0 first-period victory. The second period was more of the same as Staebler executed another three-point throw and rolled to another 5-0 victory, eliminating Lester from the competition.
"I just couldn't put it together today," Lester said moments after being knocked out of the tournament. "I don't know what it was. I couldn't get the ball rolling. Obviously it showed."
Justin Lester battles for position against Hungary's Tamas Lorincz on Tuesday (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)Lester was confident going into the Olympic Games, but things just didn't go his way.
"I felt great," said Lester. "I felt like I was a gold medalist. But obviously my body just wouldn't work the way I wanted it to."
Lester says that he cuts 25 to 30 pounds to make 66 kilos (145.5 pounds), but refused to use that as an excuse for his performance and has no regrets dropping to 66 kilos instead of wrestling 74 kilos.
"That's my weight class," Lester said of 66 kilos. "It sucks cutting the weight, but I'm too small for 74. I loved being at 74, eating all I wanted. But if I want to be competitive in the world I've got to be at 66."
The six-member U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling team finished the Olympic Games with a combined 5-8 record over three days of competition. It's the first time since 1976 that the U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling has left the Olympic Games without a medal.
Fraser's message on Tuesday was simple.
"We've got to get better as a country," said Fraser. "That's all I'm going to say, really. We've had our challenges in Greco. I'm not going to make any excuses. But we've got to just get better."
Elena Pirozhkova opens with Anastasija Grigorjeva of Latvia (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)The two-day women's freestyle competition begins on Wednesday at the Olympic Games. Korea is expected to dominate the event with three of its four wrestlers favored to win gold medals. The U.S. will send out Clarissa Chun (48 kilos) and Elena Pirozhkova (63 kilos), a World champion and World silver medalist respectively, on Wednesday.
Chun opens with World bronze medalist Shasha Zhou of China. If Chun gets past Zhou, she will face 2009 World champion Mariya Stadnik of Azerbaijan.
Pirozhkova drew Anastasija Grigorjeva of Latvia in the opening round. Grigorjeva was a European runner-up this year. A win for Pirozhkova would pit her against the winner of the match between Sylvie Datty-Ngonga Tara Agoue of the Central African Republic and Battsetseg Soronzonbold of Mongolia.
Wrestling begins at 1 p.m. local time and 8 a.m. ET on Wednesday at the ExCel Centre in London.
Japan wins gold medal, Iran wins third
Korea's Kim Hyenwoo (66 kilos) and Iran's Ghasem Rezaei (96 kilos) claimed the final two gold medals in the Greco-Roman competition on Tuesday night.
Kim HyenwooKing topped Hungarian Tamas Lorincz in the finals, 1-0, 2-0, winning the first period by defending in par terre, and earning two points off a leg foul in the second period.
"It doesn't feel real right now, but I feel very happy," said Kiim.
Kim had to overcame a major black eye to come out on top against Lorincz.
"I couldn't see through one eye, which was annoying, but I got through it with my mentality," said Kim.
Rezaei took the titles at 96 kilos by downing Russia's Rustam Totrov in the finals, 2-0, 1-0.
"I feel proud of myself," said Rezaei. "I think I made the people in my country feel happy. That is more important and precious to me than the gold medal itself. Being one of the stars makes Iranian people happy."
Iran had never had an Olympic gold medalist in Greco-Roman coming into the the this Olympic Games, but will leave London with three gold medals. Rezaei believed three gold medals was a real possibility in London.
"Definitely we expected this situation after the World Championships in Turkey last year," said Rezaei. "The boys (all the athletes and coaches in his team) were certain. It was not a wish."