USA Wrestling Talented team of U S...

Talented team of U S freestyle wrestlers to compete at the 2003 Titan Games led by college legend

By USA Wrestling/U.S. | Dec. 20, 2002, 12 a.m. (ET)

The United States will feature a talented and experienced team of freestyle wrestlers competing at the 2003 Titan Games: The Road to Athens, Feb. 14-15 in San Jose, Calif. Six of the seven freestyle wrestlers competing at the Titan Games are ranked No. 1 in the United States in their weight class and were members of the 2002 U.S. World Team. It will be a preview of the athletes expected to challenge for spots on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team. The U.S. team was unable to compete at the 2002 World Freestyle Championships in Iran due to a threat of violence against the team. The Titan Games will be one of the first major international competitions for this group of athletes since the decision to skip the World Championships. Perhaps the most recognized athlete on the team may be Cael Sanderson (Ames, Iowa/Sunkist Kids), who made history last year as the first person to win four NCAA Div. I wrestling titles and complete his career undefeated. Sanderson, who starred at Iowa State Univ. with a 159-0 record, has also been the nation's top freestyle wrestler at 185 pounds for the last two years. Sanderson has yet to represent the United States in a major international competition on the Senior level. He did not compete at the 2001 World Championships after the tournament was moved from New York City due to the 9/11 attack and was rescheduled during his college season. As with his other teammates, he did not compete in the 2002 World Championships due to the U.S. decision not to go to Iran. The Titan Games are expected to be one of the first indications of how Sanderson stacks up against the best of the rest of the world. "I'm excited about the event," said Sanderson. "It will be a great competition, especially in my weight class. It is all about preparation for the World Championships. I will try to get a feel for things and an understanding of what I need to work on." If the invited nations, Russia and Cuba, bring their best at his weight class, Sanderson would face World and Olympic Champion Adam Saitiev of Russia and past World Champion Yoel Romero of Cuba. Two California natives with a strong local following will participate in the Titan Games: Stephen Abas (Fresno, Calif./Sunkist Kids) at 121 pounds and Eric Guerrero (Stillwater, Okla./Gator WC) at 132 pounds. Guerrero was a three-time California state champion for Independence High School in San Jose, Calif. and one of the greatest prep wrestlers in state history. He attended Oklahoma State Univ., where he claimed three NCAA Div. I titles, and still trains there. Guerrero was second at the 1999 Pan American Games, second at the 2000 World Cup and seventh at the 1999 World Championships. "I am excited to return to where I grew up," said Guerrero. "San Jose is a huge wrestling town. It got me on my way and heading in the direction that I am going today. It will be great to see family and friends and to compete in front of people who have never seen me on the international level. It will be fun." Abas was also a star in the California high school system, winning three state titles representing James Logan High School in Union City and Canyon Springs High School in Moreno Valley. Abas stayed in-state for college, winning three NCAA titles for Fresno State. He has been No. 1 in the nation at his weight class for the last two years in freestyle wrestling, and was a 2002 World Cup champion. The most experienced member of the U.S. team is 2000 Olympian Kerry McCoy (Bethlehem, Pa./New York AC) at 264.5 pounds. McCoy placed fifth at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and placed fourth at the 1998 and 2001 World Championships. McCoy has won four straight World Cup titles and was second at the 1998 Goodwill Games. He captured two NCAA titles for Penn State. The other two top-ranked stars on the U.S. team are Chris Bono (Gilbert, Iowa/Sunkist Kids) at 145.5 pounds and Tim Hartung (Minneapolis, Minn./Minnesota Storm) at 211.25 pounds. Bono, a NCAA champion at Iowa State Univ., has qualified for the last two U.S. World Teams. He was second at the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team Trials and was second at the 2001 World Cup. Hartung, a two-time NCAA champion for the Univ. of Minnesota, qualified for his first U.S. World Team in 2002. He was also a U.S. Nationals freestyle champion last year. Hartung has become a top international star at 211.25 pounds after moving up one weight class after the 2001 season. Rounding out the U.S. freestyle wrestlers is Casey Cunningham (Mount Pleasant, Mich./Sunkist Kids) at 163 pounds. Cunningham was second at the 2002 U.S. Nationals and the 2002 World Team Trials, establishing himself as a top Olympic hopeful. Cunningham won a NCAA title for Central Michigan. The freestyle wrestlers will be joined by four Greco-Roman wrestlers and two women's freestyle wrestlers on the Titan Games squad. The U.S. Greco-Roman and women wrestlers will be named at a later date. Coaching the U.S. freestylers will be USA Wrestling's National Freestyle Coach Kevin Jackson of Colorado Springs, Colo. Jackson won a gold medal at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, and added World titles in 1991 and 1995. "We are excited about the Titan Games," said Jackson. "It will give us a chance to wrestle two of the best nations in the world at an early time in the season. Wrestling that caliber of competition will allow us to evaluate ourselves against the best in the world. I expect it to be very competitive and very tough to win." The two international teams scheduled to compete against the USA in wrestling at the Titan Games are Russia and Cuba. Russia is traditionally the world's top wrestling nation, and a long-time archrival of the talented U.S. team. Cuba, a major World and Pan American power, has also been outstanding in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. The Titan Games will provide a major test for U.S. Olympic hopefuls, as the world's best get set to compete in the mini-sport festival with a multi-sport format. The Road To Athens for America's elite boxers, fencers, shot putters, wrestlers, weightlifters and judo, taekwondo and karate athletes matches them up with the world's powers in each of these respective sports. Developed by the USOC in partnership with the affiliated National Governing Bodies (NGBs) and hosted by the San Jose Sports Authority and the City of San Jose, the Titan Games will feature a "USA versus the World" format in dual and triangular meets. The Titan Games venue will accommodate four platforms with competition continuously happening on at least three platforms. The event's format is the first of its kind and will be staged over three finals-only format sessions at the 5,000 seat Event Center at San Jose State University. Team and individual winners will be named by sport and weight classification, with the honor of "Ultimate Titan" up for grabs. "For American athletes to be the best in the world, they must compete against the best in the world," said Jim Scherr, Chief of Sport Performance for the USOC. "The Titan Games will provide our Olympic hopefuls that opportunity, as part of their on-going journey to Athens." Tickets to this can't-miss event are already on sale at www.ticketmaster.com or through the participating National Governing Bodies. Tickets will also be available at all San Jose Ticketmaster locations beginning January 16. Titan Games U.S. Freestyle Wrestling Team 55 kg/119 lbs. - Stephen Abas, Fresno, Calif. (Sunkist Kids) 60 kg/132 lbs. - Eric Guerrero, Stillwater, Okla. (Gator WC) 66 kg/145.5 lbs. - Chris Bono, Gilbert, Iowa (Sunkist Kids) 74 kg/163 lbs. - Casey Cunningham, Mount Pleasant, Mich. (Sunkist Kids) 84 kg/185 lbs. - Cael Sanderson, Ames, Iowa (Sunkist Kids) 96 kg/211.25 lbs. - Tim Hartung, Minneapolis, Minn. (Minnesota Storm) 120 kg/264.5 lbs. - Kerry McCoy, Bethlehem, Pa. (New York AC) Coach - National Freestyle Coach Kevin Jackson, Colorado Springs, Colo.