LONDON – By 3:00 pm on Monday, as an acrid, garlicky, eye-watering aroma of sweat filled the ExCel arena in London, the U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling team was in waiting mode. Waiting to see if the men who had eliminated Dremiel Byers and Chas Betts would advance to the final in their weight classes. If they did, the best the U.S. could hope for was a chance to fight through a gauntlet of the vanquished (known as the repechage bracket) for a berth in the bronze-medal match.
So while Byers found himself rooting for Riza Kayaalp of Turkey to make the 120kg gold medal match and Betts cheered for Cuba’s Pablo Enrique Shorey Hernandez to keep winning at 84kg, their teammate Ellis Coleman had already given his exit interview.
Coleman, known around the world for his spectacular “Flying Squirrel” move, had already lost his opening match, 2-0 (0-1, 0-7), to Ivo Angelov of Bulgaria, a 2011 world championship bronze medalist at 60kg. In the next round, Angelov was knocked out by the 2011 world champion from Iran, Omid Haji Noroozi, so it was “game over” for the 20-year-old from Illinois.
“In the beginning, I was wrestling hard but not really scoring or getting in position to score,” Coleman said. “In the second round, I got in a position to score and I didn’t capitalize on it.” It looked like he tried to jump over Angelov’s head in a last-ditch move in the second round, but it didn’t quite work.
“I had my chance, I had my opportunity,” Coleman said backstage. “For two years, I’ve been injured a lot. This whole year, I worked as hard as I could.”
Across the room from the dejected Coleman, gladiators continued to pour out of the waiting room onto one of three gold mats where the action continued uninterrupted. The tournament moved so swiftly that the volunteers doling out results were a full round behind, the press tribunes grew cacophonous as journalists screamed at the top of their lungs for competitors from their own nations, and fans stopped on metal stands with such a fervor that any hope of hearing full sentences in the tinny athlete interview maze was futile.
It almost didn’t matter. By 3:45, Betts and Byers had quietly packed their used unitards and left the scene. The waiting was over. Amid the rabid chaos, the torch was passed and it was Kayaalp and Shorey Hernandez who could only wish their rivals the best so with any luck, they could have a change to turn their Olympic dreams to bronze.
Postscript: In the end, the men who beat Coleman and Byers advanced to repechage. Angelov of Bulgaria at 60kg, and Kayaalp of Turkey at 120 kg.
Ellis Coleman – 60kg /132 lbs.
* Lost qualification bout to Ivo Angelov of Bulgaria, 2-0 (0-1,1-7). Angelov was the 2011 World Championship bronze medalist.
Chas Betts – 84kg/185 lbs.
* Won qualification bout, defeating Hawaiian-born Keitani Graham, 2-0 (6-0, 1-0). Graham represented Micronesia, a nation that first appeared in the Olympics in 2000.
* Lost in Round of 16 to Cuba’s Pablo Enrique Shorey Hernandez, 2-0 (0-1, 0-1). Shorey Hernandez was a two-time world championship medalist (2010 silver, 2009 bronze).
Dremiel Byers 120 kg/264.5 lbs. is a three-time world championship medalist (2002 gold, 2009 silver, 2007 bronze) who also placed 7th at the 2008 Olympics.
* Won Round of 16 by defeating Muminjon Abdullaev of Uzbekistan, 2-0 (1-0, 2-0). Abdullaev was a 2010 Asian Championship bronze medalist.
* Lost in Quarterfinals to Riza Kayaalp of Turkey, 2-0 (0-1, 0-1). Kayaalp was the 2011 world champion and two-time world bronze medalist (2010, 2009).
Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.