Jake Varner with his Olympic gold medal and the American flag (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)
LONDON -- Two days after Jordan Burroughs delivered a strong opening statement for the U.S. men's freestyle team at the 2012 Olympic Games, winning an Olympic gold medal, Jake Varner delivered a strong closing statement.
On Sunday, Varner, a native of Bakersfield, Calif., captured the Olympic gold medal at 96 kilos with a two-period victory over Ukraine's Valeri Andriitsev 1-0, 1-0 at ExCeL North Arena 2 in the final match on the final day of the London Games.
Jake Varner shows the Olympic gold he won on Sunday (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)Varner was able to share his golden moment with coach and mentor Cael Sanderson, who was in his corner in London. Sanderson lifted and carried Varner moments after his pupil's hand was raised.
"It's awesome," said Varner, who spent four years with Sanderson at Iowa State and the last two with him in State College, Pa. "He's an Olympic champion. I'm an Olympic champion now. I'm still not sure if I'm in his league. It's just awesome to be coached by a guy like that. I just thank him for everything. I owe him a lot. It means a lot to have him with me."
Varner won the first period on the strength of a takedown off an ankle pick, the same move Sanderson made famous.
"That's the Varner pick right there," said Sanderson. "That his baby. He's taken it all the way. He's Olympic champion."
Varner becomes Iowa State's sixth Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, joining Sanderson, his former coach Kevin Jackson, Dan Gable, Ben Peterson, and Glen Brand.
"It's just awesome to be in that group of guys," said Varner, who won two NCAA titles and reached the NCAA finals four times. "It's something special. It's just great to be a part of that tradition now."
Jake Varner lifts George Gogshelidze in the semifinals (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)Varner's road to the gold-medal match on Sunday included victories over Kurban Kurbanov of Uzbekistan, Khetag Pliev of Canada, and George Gogshelidze of Georgia. Both Kurbanov and Gogshelidze extended Varner to three periods and took him to the ball draw.
"I don't like going to the ball draw, but sometimes it happens," said Varner. "I think I had two of them. I won them both. Once I saw that I won that, won the period, I knew that I had to go out there and score some points because I didn't want to go there again."
Many expected Iran's Reza Yazdani, a 2011 World champion, to reach the gold-medal match on the opposite side of the bracket from Varner. But the Iranian suffered a knee injury in the first period of his semifinal match against Andriitsev, and was unable to continue.
Varner kept his focus on the task at hand, not on which wrestler he may or may not face.
"You can't really think ahead," said Varner. "The match wasn't wrestled yet, and everybody though it was going to be one guy and it was another. You don't really think about that. You just wait until you see who you're going to wrestle. You just stay focused. You just focus on what you're going to do out there."
It's the first time since 1996 that the U.S. has won multiple gold medals in freestyle wrestling at the Olympic Games. The U.S. and Azerbaijan tied for the most gold medals in the men's freestyle competition with two, one more than world power Russia.
"It's been just a tremendous tournament for Jake," said U.S. coach Zeke Jones. "For us overall I think it was a very good tournament. Darn near a great tournament. Very good tournament. Nothing like ending with a champion."
Jared Frayer dropped his opening match in London (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)Jared Frayer was the only other American wrestler to compete on Sunday. Frayer dropped his opening match to Ali Shabanau of Belarus in two periods 0-3, 0-1. The second period went to the ball draw after neither wrestler scored in regulation. Frayer started in the superior position, with the Belarus wrestler's leg, but was unable to score, giving Shabanau the victory.
"I just lost my head," Frayer said of losing in the ball draw in the second period. "That's not where I finish my clinch. It's unacceptable. I should have finished that position."
The 33-year-old Frayer made it clear before the Olympic Games that this would be his last competition. His wife Nicole gave birth to their second child, Beckett, shortly before the Olympic Games. Frayer also serves as an assistant coach at the University of Oklahoma.
"It was an awesome ride," Frayer said when reflecting on his competitive wrestling career. "I've done a lot of awesome things. This sport has taken me to like 30 countries and the Olympics. I'm going continue to give back and give back and give back because I think it's the greatest sport in the world."
Frayer feels the American wrestling program is in a better place than it was four years ago after the Beijing Olympics, and that it's in good hands with U.S. freestyle coach Zeke Jones.
"What Zeke's got going is a good thing," said Frayer. "He's got everybody buying in. When you have the Iowa guys and the Oklahoma State guys and all the way down the line here supporting and being a part of Team USA, that says a lot."
Day 8 Olympic Wrestling Placewinners (Men's Freestyle)
Gold: Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu (Japan)
Silver: Sushil Kumar (India)
Bronze: Akhzurek Tantarov (Kazakhstan)
Bronze: Livan Lopez (Cuba)
5th: Ramazan Sahin (Turkey)
5th: Jabrayil Hasanov (Azerbaijan),
7th: Haislan Garcia (Canada)
8th: David Safaryan (Armenia)
9th: Ikhtiyor Nazruzov (Uzbekistan)
10th: Ali Shabanau (Belarus)
Gold: Jake Varner (USA)
Silver: Valerii Andriitsev (Ukraine)
Bronze: George Gogeshelidze (Georgia)
Bronze: Khetag Gazyumov (Azerbaijan)
5th: Kurban Kurbanov (Kazakhstan)
5th: Reza Yazdani (Iran)
7th: Magomed Musaev (Kyrgyzstan)
8th: Rustam Isokawa (Japan)
9th: Abdusalam Gadisov (Russia)
10th: Khetag Pliev (Canada)