USA Wrestling FEATURE World Champ...

FEATURE World Champion Byers ready for possible U S Nationals battle with Rulon Gardner

By Janessa Pierce | May 06, 2003, 12 a.m. (ET)

When the 2003 U.S. National Wrestling Championships come to Las Vegas, May 9-10, 2002 World Champion Dremiel Byers of the U.S. Army will be ready. He'll be ready to fight, and ready to win.

"You have to expect to win. I go into every competition expecting to be in the finals, expecting to win. It doesn't always work out that way, but you have to be ready when it's your turn," said Byers.

This year's U.S. Nationals are a likely stage for a much-anticipated matchup between Byers and 2001 World Champion and 2000 Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner. Gardner was unable to compete in the 2002 season due to a snowmobile accident early in the year, which cost him one of his toes to frostbite.

Gardner is back and Byers is ready.

"Rulon is a great competitor and a good friend," Byers said admirably of his tough opponent. "The only thing I have against him is that he drives a bigger truck than I do," he joked about Gardner's Ford F250 compared to his own Ford F150. "But the day I win that Olympic gold medal, I am going out to buy a Ford F350 and park it right next to Rulon's," he added.

Byers has his heart set on bringing home an Olympic gold for the simple reason that he promised his grandfather, Theodore Byers, that he would. Theodore Byers lives in Dremiel's hometown of King's Mountain, N.C. and is an avid bowler.

"He keeps winning his bowling tournaments and keeps rubbing it in my face. The least I can do is return the favor," Byers said of his hope to win an Olympic gold.

Byers promised his grandfather an Olympic gold medal because he has been such an influential part of his life. "I look up to him. He's my best friend," said Byers.

Byers also credits much of his success to his high school wrestling coach, Steve Moffit. "He planted the seed of wrestling so close to my heart and all the good things in my life are in some way tied to wrestling," said Byers.

Before any Olympic dreams are realized, Byers will be battling for the national title in las Vegas May 9-10. He put it best by saying, "It doesn't matter if you know you can beat everyone in the world, you have to beat everyone here first."

Rulon Gardner is most likely going to be Byers' toughest opponent at this year's U.S. National Championships, but he is not taking his eyes off any of the other competitors. He is particularly watching Army teammate Paul Devlin.

"Paul is looking really good this year. He has that look in his eye and he has something to prove. Don't write him off because he's young. He's going to put up a fight. It's just a matter of who shows up that day," Byers said.

In addition to preparing for Nationals, Byers thoughts are also with his wife Shurwanda who has been deployed to Kuwait to aid in military operations. Just married in February, these two may be separated for up to a year.

"She supports me so much. She's a soldier just like I am and she's tough. I know there's a need for soldiers over there right now and it's her job, but I miss her and I can't wait for her to come home," he said.

Byers made his name internationally known last season, throwing all five of his opponents on the way to his World title. Now he faces the pressure of keeping hold of his No. 1 position in the United States. With wrestling legend Gardner aiming for a title as well, he knows it won't be easy.

For his grandfather, for his high school coach, for his wife and for himself, Byers is ready. He is ready to fight and ready to win. His strength and desire will be on display for everyone to see at the 2003 U.S. National Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas, Nev. May 9-10. Don't miss it.