|Smith, Ruiz and Menís World University Games Freestyle Team honored as 2004 USOC Wrestling Athletes and Team of the Year|
By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling
The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) has honored its 2005 Wrestling Female and Male Athletes of the Year, as well as its Wrestling Team of the Year.
The Female Athlete of the Year is 2005 World Champion Iris Smith (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army). The Male Athlete of the Year is 2005 World bronze medalist Justin Ruiz (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC). The 2005 Wrestling Team of the Year is the 2005 U.S. World University Games Men's Freestyle Team. It is the first time that either Smith or Ruiz have won this award.
Each year the USOC recognizes the top male and top female athletes and the top team as selected by their respective member organizations. The names of the athletes and teams are placed on ballots used to select the USOC SportsMan, SportsWoman and overall Team of the Year. Members of the USOC Board of Directors along with representatives of the national media participate in the voting to select the USOC SportsMan, SportsWoman and Team of the Year.
Thirty-four males, 36 females, 10 Paralympians and 25 teams are being honored by the USOC for their athletic accomplishments in 2005.
Honored last year for their accomplishments in 2004 were swimmer Michael Phelps, gymnast Carly Patterson, Paralympian Erin Popovich and the U.S. Olympic Softball Team.
Smith captured a gold medal at 72 kg/158.5 lbs. in freestyle wrestling at the World Wrestling Championships in Budapest, Hungary, on Sept. 30. It was the only gold medal for the United States at the competition, which included all three Olympic styles of the sport (men's freestyle, women's freestyle, men's Greco-Roman). Smith was one of four U.S. women to win a medal, and helped lead the United States to a third-place finish in the women's team standings.
Smith won four bouts to capture the title. She opened with an impressive 3-1, 1-0 victory over Stanka Zlateva of Bulgaria. In the quarternfinals, Smith beat Agnieszka Wieszczek of Poland, 2-0, 6-0. Her semifinals win was over Anita Schaetzle of Germany, 3-1, 2-0.
Smith pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the entire week, beating five-time World Champion Kyoko Hamaguchi of Japan, 3-1, 1-1, 1-0 in the finals. Smith gained the match-winning point 50 seconds into the third period when both wrestlers scrambled out-of-bounds. She became only the fourth U.S. women's wrestler to ever win a World title. Smith was seventh in the 2000 World Championships, her only previous World appearance for the United States.
She qualified for the U.S. World Team by winning the World Team Trials in Ames, Iowa in June, defeating Ali Bernard (New Ulm, Minn./Univ of Regina) in the Championship Series. It was her third career World Team Trials victory. Smith also won her fourth career U.S. Nationals title with a victory in Las Vegas, Nev. in May, pinning Bernard in the gold medal finals in the second period.
At the 2005 World Cup in Clermont Ferrand, France in May, Smith claimed a bronze medal. Her only loss in the tournament was to five-time World champion Hamaguchi in the dual meet against Japan. She won her match against opponents from Russia and Venezuela.
Smith is a Sargeant in the U.S. Army, and is a member of the Army's World Class Athlete Program. She is also a U.S. Olympic Training Center resident athlete. Smith is originally from Albany, Ga., where she started her wrestling career at Darsey Private School.
Ruiz captured a bronze medal at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. in men's Greco-Roman wrestling at the World Wrestling Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Sept. 28. It was the only medal won by a U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler during the championships. Ruiz was competing in his second career World meet, also wrestling at the 2003 World Championships. Outstanding defensive wrestling from the mat was one of the keys to Ruiz' impressive performance, according to U.S. coaches.
Ruiz opened the tournament with a victory over Azat Erkimbaev of Kazakhstan by disqualification in the second period. In the second round, he scored an impressive 3-0, 0-5, 1-1 win over past World silver medalist Marek Svec of the Czech Republic. In the quarterfinals, he lost to local hero Lajos Virag of Hungary, 4-0, 1-1. When Virag qualified for the gold medal finals, Ruiz was able to compete in the wrestleback for the bronze medal.
Ruiz rebounded with a tough a 3-1, 2-0 win over Shata Narmaniya of Belarus. This qualified him for the bronze-medal match against Margulan Assembekov of Kazakhstan, who Ruiz defeated by disqualification in the third and final period.
He earned a spot on the U.S. World Team with a victory at the World Team Trials in Ames, Iowa in June, defeating Adam Wheeler of the Gator WC/USOEC in the Championship Series. Ruiz won his second straight U.S. Nationals title with a strong performance in Las Vegas, Nev. in May, stopping Adam Wheeler in the gold-medal finals.
Ruiz had a tremendous season competing at international events this year, winning two gold medals and four medals in major tournaments. He captured titles at the O. Karaev International in Belarus and the Granma Cup in Poland. Ruiz won a silver medal at the Poland Open and secured a bronze medal at the Dave Schultz Memorial International in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Ruiz is a U.S. Olympic Training Center resident athlete. He was a two-time All-American at the Univ. of Nebraska prior to deciding to concentrate entirely on international Greco-Roman wrestling. Ruiz is originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was a three-time state champion for Taylorsville High School.
The U.S. World University Team captured third in the team standings in men's freestyle at the World University Games (WUG) in Izmir, Turkey. It was the top performance among the U.S. wrestling teams that entered the tournament. It was the first time that wrestling had been included in a World University Games since 1971.
Claiming individual gold medals were Nate Gallick (Tucson, Ariz/Sunkist Kids) at 60 kg/132 lbs., Jesse Jantzen (Cambridge, Mass./New York AC) at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. and Tommy Rowlands (Columbus, Ohio/Sunkist Kids) at 97 kg/211.5 lbs. Gallick is currently competing for Iowa State Univ., where he was a NCAA runner-up in 2005. Jantzen was a star at Harvard Univ., winning a NCAA title and Rowlands was a star at Ohio State, where he won two NCAA titles.
Only two other U.S. wrestlers had ever won a WUG gold medal in wrestling, Wade Schalles in 1975 and Bruce Baumgartner in 1981. Gallick won four matches, including a victory over 2004 Olympian Tevfik Odabasi of Turkey in the finals. Jantzen won five matches, beating Kelaxsaev Berding of Russia in the finals. Jantzen won every period of every match he contested. Rowlands had four wins, beating an Olympian in the semifinals, Bartolomeij Bartnicki of Poland, and Hakan Koc of Turkey in the finals.
Placing fifth at 55 kg/121 lbs. was Nick Simmons (Williamston, Mich./Michigan WC), who competes for Michigan State. Placing 10th at 84 kg/185 lbs. was Chris Pendleton (Leemore, Calif./Gator WC), who competed for Oklahoma State. Also competing on the team was Tyrone Lewis (Stillwater, Okla./Gator WC), who wrestled at 74 kg/163 lbs., who competed at Oklahoma State. The U.S. team placed third, in spite of having a weight class where they had no entries.
Coaching the U.S. team were head coach Bruce Burnett (Annapolis, Md.), Assistant Coach Lou Rosselli (Edinboro, Pa.) and USA Wrestling National Freestyle Developmental Coach Dave Bennett (Colorado Springs, Colo.).
Click here for list of USOC Athletes and Teams of the Year, by sport