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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    American Legends Discuss Representing Team USA

    Kevin Jackson coaching J'den Cox at Final X Stillwater (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    For the Fourth of July, we had the idea to reach out to several athletes who had the honor and responsibility to represent Team USA. We wanted to keep this simple, but profound, if that makes sense. We asked two main questions of several notable characters from Team USA lore.

    Question number 1) What athletic moment comes to mind when you think about your experiences representing the United States?

    Question number 2) Is there a moment off of the mat that you think of when you reflect on your experiences representing USA Wrestling?

    Some of the answers that came back didn't match the questions exactly, but nobody really cares. This is just an exercise to get some fun answers from the best the USA has had to offer the world. Here, Kevin Claunch and Lauren Muther compile the answers and experiences shared by some greats. We hope you enjoy and have a great Fourth of July!

    Randy Lewis - 2 time Olympian, Junior World Champion, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist

    1. I made two Junior World Teams, two Pan Am Teams, two World Teams, and two Olympic Teams, and I won a Junior World Title and 2 Pan Am Titles, as well as an Olympic Title. I also had my shot at a World Title robbed from me in 1982 by a protest similar to what happened 3 times to Cary Kolat. The highlight of my career was obviously winning the Gold Medal in 1984. Besides the Olympics, the best moment of my career came in a USA v Russia dual meet in Rapid City, SD in 1980. Check out my article I wrote called "The Toughest Kid on the Block" -

    2. The one thing I loved the most after winning the Olympics was wrestling in USA vs Russia dual meets in front of big crowds. I wrestled in four dual meets against two Russian World Champions and the 1988 Olympic silver medalist. I won all 4 dual meets and put on a good show. In 1990, I wrestled against the defending World Champion from Russia at 149.5 pounds in a USA v Russia dual meet in Wisconsin and my Dad was there. He told me "Randy, you don't have to put on a show, you just have to win the match." I said, "Dad, I'M GONNA win the match, but I'm also gonna PUT ON A SHOW.

    Lee Roy Smith was our coach during that meet, and he gave our first 3 wrestlers good technical advice against their opponents. When I got ready to step on the mat, he just smiled and said loudly, "Lewboo, ok let's show the crowd what wrestling is all about. Against the World Champion from Russia, I was ahead 13-4 before I pinned him. I loved representing the USA v Russia in dual meets.

    Stephen Neal - 1999 World Champion and 1999 Pan Am Champion

    1. Competing for the United States of America was such an honor. Every singlet and warmup we received during that time of competition had the flag and letters USA printed on them. What was missing from those uniforms were the athletes' names, for good reason. When I think about wrestling in those tournaments, I remember the pride I had, and still have, for the best country in the world, and trying to show what we stand for. Hard work. Never give up. Compete with Honor.

    2. Every time I hear the National Anthem I remember October 10th, 1999 when Old Glory was raised in Ankara, Turkey. Everyone in that arena stood in silence listening to The Star-Spangled Banner until our flag was raised and the song was over! Never gets old hearing that song and having that memory.

    Kendall Cross - Two-time Olympian, Olympic Gold Medalist 1996

    1. This is an obvious one - the moment our National Anthem began to play after I stood atop the podium at the '96 Atlanta Games and accepted my Gold Medal. It was a magical experience; one I played over and over in my mind. To actually live it, was surreal! I remember just shaking my head, kind of in disbelief that it was happening. A proud moment to hear our National Anthem play.

    2. My first Olympics - '92 Barcelona Games. I'll never forget walking out onto the field in Barcelona Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremonies, with the entire US contingent of athletes. Of all the countries that marched onto the field that evening, Team USA drew the absolute loudest roar from the crowd. It was a noise I felt deep in my chest. Unforgettable! For that moment, I had this overwhelming sense of pride - for being an American! It was like the Goliath of teams stepped onto that field, and for that moment, no other team existed.

    Kevin Jackson - Olympic Gold Medalist 1992, World Champion 1991 and 1995, Pan Am Champ 1991 and 1995.

    1. When standing on the award stand receiving the gold medal, every American in the arena began to sing the National Anthem! My heart filled with joy and pride for representing the United States of America.

    2. It really hit me at the closing ceremonies. They were the day after I won the Olympic Gold. Standing in the stadium, I felt the most patriotic I've ever felt. It was the greatest sense of achievement I had ever experienced. Upon entering the Olympic stadium, I noticed how well dressed the officials were; coats, hats, and ties. You could feel the energy and all its great history. I then noticed runners warming up on the track, a woman high jumps over the high bar, and a javelin came flying through the air. That's when the reality of the moment hit me like a ton of bricks… This is the Olympic Games! The OLYMPIC GAMES!!! The great ancient games that Jesse Owens, Jim Thorpe, Muhammad Ali, Mary Lou Retton, and other greats had competed in, and I, Kevin Jackson, was now a part of that history. It was the greatest sense of achievement I ever experienced. It was an overwhelming feeling of pride and patriotism.

    Kerry McCoy - 2-time Olympian (2000, 2004), World Silver Medalist 2003, Pan Am Champion 2003

    1. Making my first Olympic Team always jumps to the top of the list, but another is my Cadet World Team experience. It was my first time out of the U.S. and it was my first exposure to elite wrestlers from all over the country as teammates.

    2. The opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games were the most incredible experiences. Being around so many incredible athletes representing their countries was amazing. During that time, the only thing that mattered was being a part of the Olympic family and being united under the Olympic flag.

    Donny Pritzlaff - World Bronze Medalist 2006, World Cup Bronze Medalist (2007), Pan Am Silver Medalist 2006, 2-time Dave Schultz Gold Medalist (2002, 2005), Junior World Champ 1998

    1. Winning the bronze medal at the 2006 World Championships for the U.S. against an opponent from Belarus who beat me twice previously.

    2. There isn't one off-the-mat moment in particular but I think often of all the people, relationships and lifelong friendships that I built traveling overseas with the U.S. team and the many stories of all these trips.

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