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Tolly's Time: Thompson making most of his opportunity

Don't get Tolly Thompson wrong.

Winning a bronze medal at the World Championships last year in Budapest, Hungary, was a gratifying experience.

Especially for a guy who for years was regarded as one of the top freestyle heavyweights on the planet, but was uable to make a United States World or Olympic team while stuck behind World champ Stephen Neal and two-time Olympian Kerry McCoy.

But Thompson won't be content unless he brings home a different color medal from this year's World Championships.

"I want to be a World champion and I want to be an Olympic champion," Thompson said. "If that's not the goal you shouldn't be doing this."

Thompson, who will celebrate his 33rd birthday next month, is on top of the mountain right now in this country. And he intends to stay there for at least a couple more years after making his first World Team in 2005.

Thompson, who competes for the Sunkist Kids, already has clinched a spot in the finals of the U.S. World Team Trials on May 27-28 in Sioux City, Iowa. He did that by virtue of being a returning World medalist and after he won the U.S. Nationals last month in Las Vegas.

Under a new format at the World Team Trials, each weight class will be wrestled in just one day. The 120 kg/264.5 pound class Thompson competes in will be wrestled on May 28. A Challenge Tournament will be held early in the day with the winner advancing to face Thompson in a best-of-3 finals series later in the day.

If Thompson wins, he will earn a trip to the World Championships on Sept. 26-Oct. 2 in Guangzhou, China.

To make his second World Team, Thompson will need to hold off a promising and hungry group of 20-somethings in the heavyweight class that includes past NCAA champions Steve Mocco, Cole Konrad and Tommy Rowlands.

Mocco has placed second to Thompson at the U.S. Nationals the past two years, and also was second to him at the 2005 World Team Trials. Mocco is training in freestyle full-time now after completing his career at Oklahoma State.

"He's so dangerous," Thompson said of Mocco. "He's strong and he's hard to wrestle - all those guys are."

Konrad placed third at the World Team Trials last year, but the Minnesota junior elevated his game to another level after beating Mocco four times during the 2005-06 collegiate season. The last win came in overtime in March's NCAA finals. Konrad also owns a victory over 1998 World champion Alex Rodriguez of Cuba at the 2005 Pan American Championships.

Rowlands was a 2005 World University Games champion, and has been ranked as high as No. 2 on Team USA at heavyweight.

"It's a tough weight class and those young guys are pushing me," Thompson said. "I know I need to work hard to stay ahead of them."

Thompson said he's in peak condition physically and will compete at around 255 pounds at the World Team Trials.

"I feel like I'm 20 still," he said. "I've worked real hard on my conditioning."

Fatigue may be the determining factor with the winner of the Challenge Tournament having to face a rested Thompson in the best-of-3 series in the finals.

"I think it's obviously pretty important for me to not have to go through that tournament," he said. "But whoever comes out of there is still going to be pretty tough."

Thompson, a 1995 NCAA champion for Nebraska, continues to train in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where he is an assistant coach at the University of Northern Iowa.

Thompson has continued to thrive as a competitor with the help of the Olympic Job Opportunities Program with Home Depot. He works 20 hours a week for Home Depot and is paid for 40, providing him the resources and time to train.

"I couldn't do this without Home Depot," said Thompson, who is married with three young daughters. "It's worked out real well with them."

Thompson was named the winner of the 2005 John Smith Award as the Freestyle Wrestler of the Year by USA Wrestling. He wants to continue the tradition of dominant American heavyweights.

"We're expected to win medals," he said. "It was nice to get in there last year and finally win one. And it was nice to finally have a chance to prove myself at that level. But Hungary is done and over with, and it's time to move forward."
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