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Army Wrestler Wins World Championship

By Tim Hipps
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2005 – Army Sgt. Iris Smith won a gold medal Sept. 30 in the women's 158.5-pound freestyle division of the 2005 World Wrestling Championships at Budapest, Hungary.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Sgt. Iris Smith (top), seen here defeating Ali Bernard for the 2005 women's 158.5-pound freestyle national championship at Las Vegas, won a world wrestling championship in her weight class Sept. 30 at Budapest, Hungary. Smith, a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, is stationed at Fort Carson, Colo. Photo by Tim Hipps

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Smith, a wrestler in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, defeated five-time world champion Kyoko Hamaguchi of Japan, 3-1, 1-1, 1-0, to become the new world champion in her weight class.

Fellow Army wrestlers Staff Sgt. Dremiel Byers and Sgt. Tina George also competed in the tournament but did not advance into the medal rounds.

The lone American female to win a gold medal in the world championships this year, Smith became the fourth U.S. woman wrestler to win a world crown. She joined her teenage idol, four-time world champion Tricia Saunders, along with Kristie Marano and Sandra Bacher.

"My first coach, Anthony White, always told me I could do it," said Smith, 25, who wrestled for the boys varsity team at Darsey Private School, in Albany, Ga. "At the time, I had posters of Tricia Saunders. Now it is my turn."

To reach the championship match, Smith grappled to victories against Bulgaria's Stanka Zlateva, 3-1, 1-0; Poland's Angnieska Wieczczek, 2-0, 6-0; and Germany's Anita Schaetzle, 3-1, 2-0.

Smith scored her championship-winning point 50 seconds into the third period against Hamaguchi, when they scrambled out of bounds. After a video review, the referee awarded the point to Smith, who kept the pressure on during the final minute.

"When it was over, I looked at (my coaches') faces," she said. "When I saw them, I thought: 'I guess I won.' I was instantly thanking God. I was so pumped and teary-eyed."

Maintaining focus was Smith's key to victory.

"In all of Iris' matches, she never beat herself, which was something she had to work on," Team USA coach Terry Steiner said. "She kept good position, nothing fancy -- just good, solid wrestling."

For her efforts, Smith was named TheMat.com Wrestler of the Week for Sept. 27 through Oct. 3. She also was tabbed USA Today's Olympic Athlete of the Week.

A four-time national champion, Smith has competed twice in the world championships, finishing seventh in 2000. She also made Team USA's roster for the world championships in 2001 but missed the event to attend Army basic training.

In men's Greco-Roman competition, Byers defeated Italy's Rocco Daniele Ficara, 4-1, 2-0, in the first round of the 264.5-pound division Oct. 2. In his second-round match, Byers lost 3-0, 1-1 to Kazakhastan's Georgiy Tsurtsumia, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist. Because Tsurtsumia scored the last point of the second period, he was awarded the period and the match based on new rules implemented before the tournament by Federation Internationale des Luttes Associees, the international governing body for amateur wrestling.

"I was undecided what I would do on the top," said Byers, 31, who won a world championship three years ago. "I went for the reverse lift. I was in a great position for that but I sat there a second thinking. I waited too late and could not switch off."

In the women's 121-pound freestyle division Sept. 29, George lost 1-0, 6-0 in the second round to Canada's Tonya Verbeek, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist.

"I don't know how to explain it," said George, 26, a two-time world silver medalist who opened with a 2-0, 2-1 victory over Mongolia's Naidan Otgonjargal. "It was just that match. I was off. Something didn't click right."

Everything, however, was clicking for Smith. One of four American women to earn a medal in the tournament, she helped Team USA to a third-place finish.

(Tim Hipps is assigned to the U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center.)

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Related Sites:
Army World Class Athlete Program

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Sgt. Iris Smith (top), seen here controlling a women's 158.5-pound freestyle championship match against Ali Bernard in the 2005 U.S. Wrestling World Team Trials at Ames, Iowa, won a world championship in her weight class Sept. 30 at Budapest, Hungary. Photo by Tim Hipps  
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