Two time World bronze medalist Harry Lester set to make return as member of World Class Athlete ProgramHarry Lester had spent the previous four World Championships competing for the United States in Greco-Roman wrestling.
Lester won back-to-back bronze medals at the 2006 and 2007 World Championships. He was a key member of the 2007 U.S. squad that won the World team title.
But when the 2010 World Championships rolled around last month in Moscow, Russia, Lester was nowhere near a wrestling mat.
Lester was in the middle of basic training in South Carolina, after joining the U.S. Army in late July. When news of the U.S. performance at the 2010 Worlds reached Lester, he heard a report he didn't expect.
The U.S. fell short of winning a medal in Greco-Roman, with Justin Ruiz and Dremiel Byers leading the team with fifth-place finishes.
"I was very surprised" Lester said. "All the guys on the U.S. team are very talented. I thought for sure we would win some medals."
The 27-year-old Lester plans to help change the U.S. fortunes in the next couple of years. He will wrestle for the U.S. Army's World Class Athlete Program.
Lester also plans to drop back to his old weight class of 66 kg/145.5 lbs. He wrestled in the 2009 Worlds at 74 kg/163 lbs. before taking nearly the entire 2009-10 season off while working and then joining the Army.
Lester said he may be back competing again as early as February in the Dave Schultz Memorial International in Colorado Springs.
"Having Harry Lester back in the mix will be a great asset to our overall Greco program" U.S. National Coach Steve Fraser said. "He has proven that he can win internationally and hopefully will raise the level of competition within our own country. Harry is one of the fiercest competitors I have known. He has the ability to still make a huge impact in the sport. If anyone in our country can win a medal in London - it is Harry Lester."
Lester finished basic training Oct. 7, and is now completing his job training in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He said he plans to return home to Colorado Springs in early December.
Lester said he weighed 184 pounds when he started basic training in late July. He is now weighing around 160.
"I'm not going through the day-to-day grind of wrestling right now, but I feel healthy and I feel really good" he said. "I think the time away from wrestling has helped me. I can march 10 miles now, I felt like I got a lot stronger and my flexibility is good. I've been eating right. I'm feeling fresh again."
Lester was heavily favored to make the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team before finishing third at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Las Vegas.
Lester retired briefly after the Trials before coming back during the 2008-09 season. He made the U.S. World Team and lost a controversial last-second decision to Denmark's Mark Madsen in the first round of the 2009 World Championships. Madsen went on to win a silver medal in his home country.
Lester wrestled in the New York AC International last November at 84 kg/185 lbs., but hasn't competed since then.
"There are two main reasons I joined the Army" Lester said. "First, it was the best option financially for me and my family. I can still wrestle and support my family.
"And second, Shon Lewis does a great job coaching the Army team. Ivan Ivanov's been a great coach for me, and Shon's helped me in the past as well. Shon's been in my corner at the World Championships, and he gets my style of wrestling and he knows how to push me. He gives me an extra edge."
Lewis said Lester can still "be a force to be reckoned with."
"I am very excited to have Harry Lester in the World Class Athlete Program" Lewis said. "He's a tremendous talent and he has the potential to accomplish great things. He needs to work hard and continue to be a student of the sport. I think Harry can be the best guy in the World, no doubt about it."
Lester's close friend and former U.S. Olympic Education Center teammate, Spenser Mango, also has joined the Army's World Class Athlete Program. Mango, 24, a 2008 Olympian who made World Teams in 2009 and 2010 in Greco-Roman, just started basic training in Missouri.
Lester's focus is on the 2011 Worlds in Istanbul, Turkey and the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England.
"The Olympics are definitely a huge goal of mine" Lester said. "The big focus right now is making the World Team, winning a gold medal and qualifying the weight for the Olympics. Then I can focus on winning a gold medal in London.
"I know I can do it. It's just a matter of being confident and believing that no one in the World can beat you."