Smith, Waldroup Earn Olympic Greco-Roman Wrestling Spots
By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 17, 1996 Two soldiers earned Olympic spots and three others earned alternate positions at the recent U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling trials in Concord, Calif.
Spc. Rodney Smith, a bronze medalist at 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, will try to improve on that performance after winning the 149.5 title at the trials. His Army teammate, Staff Sgt. Derrick Waldroup, captured his first Olympic bid in the 198-pound class.
Earning slots as Olympic alternates are Army Sgt. Shon Lewis (125.5 pounds), Army Spc. Keith Sieracki (163) and Army Capt. Jeffrey Green (286). All five Army grapplers wrestle out of Fort Benning, Ga.
Smith, the top seed at 149.5, had to wait through a day of preliminary matches before learning he was to wrestle an old nemesis. Chris Saba, often Smith's scrimmage partner at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., wrestled his way to a best-of-three match series against Smith for the Olympic berth.
"I know Chris well, and there isn't a wrestler in this category that can match his intensity on the mat," said Smith. "When we train in Colorado, there's only one person who will openly challenge me on the mat, and that's Chris."
In their first match, Smith picked up four quick points with a pair of throws, then added a three-point move leading to a 7-3 victory over Saba.
However, Smith struggled with Saba and the humidity inside the Concord wrestling venue during the second match. "The heat inside the place was draining everybody -- everybody except Saba," said Smith. "He had to win this match to stay alive, and it took all I had to hold off his attacks."
Using a pair of one-point moves, Smith held a 2-0 advantage as the match ended. Under international wrestling rules, a winning wrestler must have at least three points to earn a decision. That extra point came 59 seconds into the extra period, when a one-point take-down gave Smith victory and a return trip to the Olympics.
For Smith, 30, that return caps a four-year battle of pain caused by an injury suffered at the Barcelona Games. Unknown to Smith at the time, the Army wrestler fractured the fourth and fifth vertebrae in his back during Olympic competition.
"I thought there just sore muscles at first -- something I thought I could work out of while I wrestled," said Smith. "But I saw that it wasn't getting any better, so I had it checked and found out I'd seriously injured it."
Using a combination of stretching and strengthening exercises over the past two years, Smith gradually worked his way back into shape -- and to the top seed at the 1996 Olympic trials. "People say hard work pays off," said Smith. "I've always understood that. But now, with all the injuries I've had, I really have an appreciation for what hard work means."
Hard work also paid off for Waldroup, 33, who had to fight his way through preliminary bouts to earn a shot at top-seeded Michael Foy. Unlike Smith, who was the top seed at 149.5, Waldroup had to win three preliminary matches the day before his best-of-three series.
Foy and Waldroup split their first two bouts. Foy earned a 5-1 decision in Match 1, while Waldroup countered with a 5-2 victory in the second. The competition was typical of the two combatants who have nine national championships between them. The two met for the 1996 national title, with Foy earning the title and the top seed at the trials.
Midway through the championship bout, a Waldroup take-down put Foy to the mat. Seconds later, Waldroup recorded a pin and earned his first Olympic berth in three tries.
"In the past, I've put a lot of undue pressure on myself for focusing on individual opponents," said Waldroup, "and not necessarily wrestling to my capabilities. As I've gotten older and smarter, I've learned that any person at any given time is capable of beating another person. I should just go out there and wrestle my best."
Also earning a slot on the Olympic team is Sgt. 1st Class Tony Thomas, Army's wrestling coach. Thomas, who led Army to seven straight armed forces titles, earned his slot last April and will assist U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman head coach (and Navy Petty Officer 1st Class) Rob Hermann.
All wrestlers and alternates began final training June 10 at the Olympic Training Center. They will train there until early July, then travel to Atlanta for the Olympic opening ceremonies. The Greco-Roman competition begins June 20 at the Georgia World Congress Center.
Armed Forces Finishes
1996 Olympic Trials
3rd Place -- Staff Sgt. Eric Wetzel (MC, Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Va.)
4th Place -- Spc. Rafael Mejia (A, Fort Benning, Ga.)
5th Place -- Petty Officer 2nd Class Mike Kimmerly (N, Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla.)
8th Place -- 2nd Lt. Benjamin Runkel (A, U.S. Army-Korea)
3rd Place -- Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven Mays (N, Pensacola)
4th Place -- Sgt. George Williams (MC, Quantico)
6th Place -- Petty Officer 3rd Class Bobby Demeritt (N, Pensacola)
8th Place -- Cpl. Jeremy Walker (MC, Quantico)
4th Place -- Spc. Jason Tolbert (A, Fort Benning)
5th Place -- Cpl. Duaine Martin (MC, Quantico)
6th Place -- Spc. Keith Idelburg (A, Fort Benning)
7th Place -- Capt. Trevor Humphrey (A, Fort Benning)
2nd Place -- Sgt. Shon Lewis (Fort Benning)
8th Place -- 1st Lt. Jay Antonelli (MC, Quantico)
1st Place -- Spc. Rodney Smith (A, Fort Benning)
4th Place -- Spc. Laurence Jackson (A, Fort Benning)
5th Place -- Sgt. Marcel Cooper (MC, Quantico)
6th Place -- 2nd Lt. Steve Horton (AF, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo.)
2nd Place -- Spc. Keith Sieracki (A, Fort Benning)
4th Place -- Spc. Miguel Spencer (A, Fort Benning)
7th Place -- Sgt. Keith Wilson (MC, Quantico)
8th Place -- Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathaniel Jackson (N, Bethesda Naval Medical Center, Md.)
9th Place -- Senior Airman Jeremy Edwards (AF, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.)
6th Place -- Spc. Kenny Owens (A, Fort Benning)
10th Place -- Sgt. Chris Vike, (MC, Quantico)
1st Place -- Staff Sgt. Derrick Waldroup (A, Fort Benning)
7th Place -- Lt. Tom Storey (N, USS South Carolina)
3rd Place -- 2nd Lt. Dan Hicks (MC, Quantico)
5th Place -- 1st Lt. Jerry Jackson (A, Fort Benning)
7th Place -- Cpl. Ray Mendoza (MC, Quantico)
2nd Place -- Capt. Jeffrey Green (A, Fort Benning)
5th Place -- Seaman Matt Lamb (N, Pensacola
7th Place -- Spc. Edward Mitchell (A, Fort Benning)
(Tom Hlavacek of the Army World Class Athlete Program contributed to this story.)