Soldier Finishes Eighth in Olympic Greco-Roman Wrestling
By Tim Hipps
U.S. Army Installation Management Command
LONDON, Aug. 8, 2012 Team USA coaches did not recognize their wrestler as Army Spc. Justin Lester -- or Harry Lester, as some know him -- as he finished eighth in the Olympic men’s Greco-Roman 66-kilogram tournament yesterday at ExCel North Arena 2 here.
“He was lacking the normal Harry Lester zip that he has,” Team USA Greco-Roman head wrestling coach Steve Fraser said. “Harry, or Justin, looked a little bit sluggish, and he looked like he got a little bit tired.”
“That wasn’t Justin Lester out there tonight,” said Team USA assistant coach Shon Lewis, a retired Army staff sergeant and head coach of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program wrestling squad. “All day it wasn’t him. He doesn’t give up points like that and get taken down like that when he’s on his game. This is the worst I’ve seen him look, as far as moving on his feet.”
Lester, 28, a native of Akron, Ohio, who is stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., won one match and lost two in London as Team USA failed to win an Olympic medal in Greco-Roman wrestling for the first time since 1976, excluding the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games.
Lester lost 5-0, 5-0 to Germany’s Frank Staebler in the repechage wrestle-backs of the 145.4-pound class, ending his medal quest before a raucous, sellout crowd of 6,500.
“What I will try to keep in my mind as the lasting emotions are my feelings in the second bout against the American wrestler when the big crowd of several thousands of spectators cheered the wrestlers on,” Staebler said.
Korea’s Hyeon-Woo Kim won the gold medal and Hungary’s Tamas Lorincz took the silver. France’s Steve Guenot and Georgia’s Manukhar Tskhadia both received a bronze.
For Lester, one of Team USA’s strongest Olympic medal hopefuls in wrestling, it was a day he would just as soon forget.
“I just couldn’t get the ball rolling, and it obviously showed,” Lester said. “I just couldn’t get going. I’m a little sick, but [that] plays no part in it. I just didn’t wrestle like I usually wrestle. … I just wrestled stupid. I didn’t stick to a game plan or anything.
“I kept telling my body to do things and it just wouldn’t work,” he continued. “Everything was like a step behind. … Things I usually do naturally just didn’t come together today.”
Lester lost his second match 2-0, 0-1, 0-2 to Lorincz, who rallied to win the last two periods.
“It looked like [Lester] just kind of slipped as they were fighting,” Fraser said of the Hungarian’s takedown that turned the momentum of the match. “They were fighting very hard, and he kind of slipped and fell down on his stomach or side, and the Hungarian capitalized on it.
“Harry is the type of guy that doesn’t study his guys too much,” Fraser added. “We studied as coaches. We knew what his strengths and what his weaknesses were, but Harry likes to just wrestle open and doesn’t really care what his opponent is doing, and that’s what he did. I think he executed his game plan pretty well, but it just looked like he was lacking the normal Harry Lester zip that he has.”
Lester opened with a self-admittedly sluggish 3-0, 3-1 victory over Tsutomu Fujimura of Japan.
“I thought that first match was good to get it out of his system,” Fraser said of Lester’s apparent sluggishness. “A lot of times in the first match you’re a little sluggish. They were both hard-fought matches. When you go at that high-intensity pace, you’re going to get tired. But I just saw not the normal zip, zip. And he’s going to have that zip, zip coming up here if he gets pulled through here.”
Lester got the opportunity to wrestle back for bronze after Lorincz reached the 66-kilo finale with a 3-0, 4-0 victory over Tskhadaia.
Justin Dashaun Lester is better known as Harry in USA wrestling circles. He began using his given name rather than his nickname when he joined the Army and began wrestling for the black and gold.
“I just thought I would be a little more formal, a little more professional,” Lester explained. “I had gone by Harry my whole life. When my mom was pregnant with me, she always had heartburn, so people said she had a hairball in her throat. So when I came out, they just nicknamed me ‘Harry’ and it stuck.”
Regardless of household names, the Olympic Games are known for turning athletic stars into mere mortals, as Lester, making his Olympic debut, quickly discovered.
“It’s a hard tournament,” he said. “You come out right away shooting guns. You’ve got good people right off the bat, and it’s all the way through the tournament. People up their games here, and that’s just how it goes. The experience is something you’ll never get anywhere else.”
Lester, who said he normally cuts 25 to 30 pounds in preparation for a major tournament, cherished the Olympic experience in London, even if the outcome was much different than what he had envisioned.
Wrestlers traditionally leave their shoes on the mat after their final match to signal retirement from the sport. Fraser said he would like to see Lester continue wrestling for another shot at an Olympic medal in Brazil.
“I haven’t talked too much with him about it, but I assume he’s not going to stay down at 66 kilos,” Fraser said. “I assume he’ll go up to 74 if he continues, which I’m not sure if he will or not. I don’t know. But I would guess he’s going to go up at least for a few years and then maybe decide he wants to come back down.
“It’s very difficult to keep that weight down there when you’re naturally bigger,” he added. “I think he thought that  was the place to be to win a gold medal, and so he gave it his all to get down there, and gave it his all today to try to do that. Unfortunately, for him and our country, it just didn’t seem like it was in the cards today.”
Lester said he did not know if he would continue wrestling for a shot at making Team USA for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“We’ll see tomorrow, or the day after that, I don’t know,” he said. “The shoes are still on. We’ll see.”