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Competitive fire still burns strong for Brands twins



SIOUX CITY, Iowa - It's been nearly a decade since Tom Brands wrestled competitively and almost six years since his twin brother Terry walked off the mat for the final time as an athlete.

But that same fire, intensity, passion, drive and focus that enabled them to combine for three World titles, an Olympic gold medal and an Olympic bronze medal still burns as strong as ever. That was evident when the two brothers were reunited for a press conference Friday afternoon at the Tyson Events Center.

The Brands brothers were joined at the U.S. World Team Trials press conference by 2005 World bronze medalist Justin Ruiz, a past All-American for the University of Nebraska.

This weekend is a homecoming of sorts for the pair of former Iowa Hawkeye NCAA champions, who grew up just an hour up the road in Sheldon, Iowa. It also was a unique setting as it was believed to be the first time the Brands brothers had sat next to each other at a press conference.

As you can imagine, it was all business with the Brands brothers. They know how important this event is.

"This is it - if you don't get out of this weekend with a title you are not going to the World Championships and have that opportunity to win that yellow medal," Terry Brands said. "It is very important that you are ready and you peak for an event like this."

The twins will play pivotal roles this weekend as coaches. Terry Brands is USA Wrestling's Resident National Freestyle Coach and will be in the corner for numerous athletes who are competing here. Tom Brands, the new head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes, will coach a handful of former Hawkeyes in freestyle in Sioux City. Tom helped coach the 2004 Olympic team.

"This environment here is going to be great for this tournament," Tom said. "The best freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestlers on the planet are right here in Sioux City, Iowa. We need to fill this arena up. People have to delay their camping trips and Memorial Day weekend plans until next weekend. People should be at the Tyson Events Center this weekend to see some great wrestling."

The World Team Trials open Saturday at 9 a.m. and continue through Sunday night at Sioux City's brand-new arena. The 14 champions at each weight class - seven in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman - will earn a spot on the U.S. team that will compete in the World Championships on Sept. 26-Oct. 2 in Guangzhou, China.

On Saturday, freestyle will be contested at 55 kg/121 lbs., 60 kg/132 lbs. and 96 kg/211.5 lbs. with Greco-Roman being wrestled at 66 kg/145.5 lbs., 74 kg/163 lbs., 96 kg/211.5 lbs. and 120 kg/264.5 lbs.

On Sunday, freestyle will be contested at 66 kg/145.5 lbs., 74 kg/163 lbs., 84 kg/185 lbs. and 120 kg/264.5 lbs. with Greco-Roman being wrestled at 55 kg/121 lbs., 60 kg/132 lbs. and 84 kg/185 lbs.

Two of the athletes Brands coaches at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs - Henry Cejudo and Mo Lawal - will carry No. 1 seeds into this event. The 19-year-old Cejudo is ranked No. 1 at 55 kg/121 lbs. and Mo Lawal is No. 1 at 84 kg/185 lbs. Lawal made the 2005 World Team.

"Five of our guys were in the finals at (the U.S. Nationals), but only two guys won," Terry said. "We are looking to build on that and improve on that performance. We are working extremely hard to have champs at all seven weight classes."

Terry Brands also acknowledged that the United States needs to improve internationally. Americans won just two medals in freestyle at last year's World Championships with Tolly Thompson (120 kg/264.5 lbs.) and Joe Williams (74 kg/163 lbs.) each earning bronze medals. Thompson and Williams will compete this weekend.

"We need a work ethic and a discipline to take our wrestling to a level a majority of people in this country don't understand," Terry said. "The Russians are heads and shoulders above us right now. They won 4 of 7 weights at the World Championships last year and they just won 6 of 7 weights at the European Championships. I feel good about the progress we're making - I think we have to make it more rapidly to ultimately surpass the Russians."

The Brands twins, who turned 38 last month, were virtually side-by-side their entire lives wrestling or coaching until 2000 when Terry left Iowa to take a job as an assistant coach at Nebraska. Even though Tom is back in Iowa City now and Terry is in Colorado Springs, their relationship remains ultra-close.

They were asked how different it is being in different parts of the country now.

"We're so busy, we don't really have time to reflect on it," Terry said. "When I stop and think about it, I kind of miss him sometimes. But there's a lot going on. He's got his hands full and I have my hands full. Our wives are real good friends and we try to get the kids together. We still communicate a lot over the phone. Our relationship will be the same whether we live next door to each other or live across the country."

Said Tom: "We're tight no matter what. We're matured to the point where the fisticuffs are fewer and farther in-between."

Ruiz, an All-American at Nebraska in 2002 and 2003, has become a major force internationally since shifting his focus to Greco-Roman full-time in 2004. He competed at the World meet in 2003 and 2005, earning a bronze medal at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. last year in Budapest, Hungary.

Ruiz said it's exciting to be back in the Midwest competing.

"I really enjoyed my time at Nebraska and had some great experiences there," he said. "It will be great to see some Husker fans out there supporting us. It will be fun to wrestle in front of them again."
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