Byers Loses in Quarterfinals, Vows to Wrestle in London
By Tim Hipps
Special to American Forces Press Service
BEIJING, Aug. 14, 2008 After being eliminated from the quarterfinals of the Olympic Greco-Roman 120-kilogram wrestling tournament today, Army Staff Sgt. Dremiel Byers vowed to continue his quest for an Olympic medal at the 2012 London Games.
Army World Class Athlete Program Staff Sgt. Dremiel Byers wrestles to a 1-1, 2-0 victory over Oleksandr Chernetskyi of Ukraine in their opening match of the Olympic Greco-Roman 120-kilogram tournament Aug. 14, 2008, at the China Agricultural University gymnasium in Beijing. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“Today, I was supposed to be getting a medal for my grandfather,” Byers said. “I guarantee if he was still alive, I would call him and tell him what happened today and he would probably say, ‘Well, I won my bowling tournament,’ whether he did it or not. I think about that. He wanted me to know one of us was winning, so I still owe him.”
Byers opened the tournament with a 1-0, 2-1 victory over Ukraine’s Oleksandr Chernetskyi.
“I just came out and tried to work a few things, and it worked out,” Byers said. “I was able to score.”
In his second match, Byers faced China’s Deli Liu, who seemed even larger than a 6-foot-8 heavyweight with the support of the home crowd packed inside the China Agricultural University gymnasium.
“He was amped up,” said Byers, who prevailed, 4-1, 1-1 and 1-1. “He’s gotten a whole lot better -- I think even bigger and stronger. His wrist is like the size of VCR tapes.
“It’s his home country,” Byers continued. “A lot of honor is in your heart when you’re wrestling in front of your people. You want to give them a medal because sometimes there are people out there who deserve it more than you. My hat’s off to him. That’s a tough loss for him and his home crowd. He brought it. He was really trying hard. I was just able to hold him off.”
Sweden’s Jalmar Sjoberg ended Byers’ tournament with a 0-3, 1-1 and 1-1 victory that seemed to slip from the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program soldier’s grasp.
“He came out real fast, so I was ready for it,” Byers said. “I got out there and saw that he was feeling it just as much as I was. And my offense wasn’t working for me in the end, like when I really needed to. I tried to hit that gut wrench as many times as I could, and it didn’t pan out.
“That’s my ‘go-to’ move, and it wasn’t there for me,” he said. “My lift, I wasn’t able to get off on him. Hindsight is always 20-20. Looking back, I know for a fact I should have been doing a whole lot more on my feet.
“I already know coach [Army Staff Sgt. Shon] Lewis is going to say that, right off the top,” he continued. “I missed a couple of key opportunities to score on my feet, and I’ll never get ‘em back. And this is not the place where you should walk around saying anything like that.”
Byers quickly realized and admitted his shortcomings shortly after the match.
“In competitions like this, you’re looking to see your soul out there gasping on the mat for air, and it didn’t happen today,” he said. “I walked off; I wasn’t tired. I was like, ‘Man, if I’m not tired, then I didn’t do everything I should’ve done.’
“Usually we say you get back to the hotel room and your mirror will be the most honest thing you’ll ever see,” he said. “I don’t even have to make it that far to know I dropped the ball today. And I apologize to anybody I let down. There’s more fight in me. There’s a whole lot more fight in me, and I’m going to have to make sure that’s shown the next competitions, the next major ones, the next Olympics.”
Late in both of the scoreless second and third periods between Byers and Sjoberg, coin flips determined which wrestler would start on top in “par terre” -- on the mat. The Swede benefited both times. Byers expended extra energy while defending from below. When he got his turn on top, Byers failed to turn Sjoberg, who scored one point on both occasions.
Byers, however, refused to use that as an excuse.
“If these rules were something that started last week, I would probably have a whole lot to say about it, but I’ve won some matches the same way,” Byers said. “It’s something we know. It’s an occupational hazard, I guess, but we accept it the way it is.”
Byers’ working mantra for most of the past decade has been to “get my hand raised, and our song played” at international tournaments. He knows, however, that hearing “The Star-Spangled Banner” playing on foreign soil while watching the Stars and Stripes getting hoisted to the rafters never comes easily.
“Greco-Roman wrestling, regardless of the rules and what changes they make, when it boils down, it’s wrestling,” Byers said. “And if you don’t go out there and wrestle head down, [then you get] no anthem, no flag. That’s the way it is.”
Byers, a world champion in 2002, always has been one to successfully roll with the changes. He has wrestled out of the shadow of two-time heavyweight Olympic medalist Rulon Gardner, for whom Byers served as a training partner at the 2004 Athens Games.
“You’ve got to find something to keep you going,” said Byers, a 6-foot-2 gentle giant off the mat who rarely complains. “There’s something in us that makes us keep going. It might be just drive, determination, American spirit, me and my background soldiering, I don’t know. But there’s just something in here that says it’s never time to quit. We’ve got something we can accomplish here, so we’re going to hit it hard these next four years and do everything we have to do.”
Although he has been a contender for three U.S. Olympic teams, Byers, 33, was an Olympic rookie in Beijing. He learned a lot as the veteran wrestler on a young Team USA.
“Honestly, it’s a lot smaller tournament than what I thought,” Byers said. “and I could’ve brought a whole lot bigger fight. I’m kicking myself for that.
“I think there was times when I was holding back,” he admitted. “I always joke that I can outrun anybody on a treadmill. I don’t have to think when I’m on a treadmill. But if I’m outside running, I forget what I’m doing. But on the treadmill, I’m a heavyweight king running a marathon. Sometimes it happens in wrestling. I’ll be out there, and my mind will wander.”
Byers, a native of Kings Mountain, N.C., who is stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., cherished visiting China and experiencing Chinese culture firsthand.
“It’s a beautiful place,” he said. “People are very friendly. Architecture is amazing. The Great Wall experience was awesome.”
Even in defeat, Byers always maintains an uncanny sense of humor and commands utmost respect. He knows how to lose graciously, but he does not have to like it.
“You can’t put a cap on the fight in an American’s heart,” Byers said. “We’re just craving another chance now. This is just fuel for something bigger, and the only thing bigger is the next Olympics.”
Meantime, what’s next on his agenda?
“I might make it home and get some of Momma’s cooking,” Byers said. “After that, I’ll get back to training.”
(Tim Hipps works in the U.S. Army Family and Moral, Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs Office.)