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Daniel Cormier focused on making run at gold medal at World Championships

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Daniel Cormier knows he has his share of doubters right now.

And his fair share of detractors.

Cormier made an immediate splash on the international level, just missing World-level medals with a fifth-place finish in the 2003 World Championships and a fourth-place finish in the 2004 Olympics.

Explosive, dangerous and immensely talented, and still in his mid-20s, Cormier looked like a can't-miss prospect and an international star in the making in freestyle wrestling at 96 kg/211.5 pounds.

Then came 2005. Cormier's steady ascent up the World ladder came to a screeching halt at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. He lost in the second round and failed to place.

This year has been even more of a struggle. He has had trouble cutting to 96 kilos and failed to make weight at the prestigious Uzbekistan Independence Cup in March. He hasn't wrestled overseas this year and has dropped out of the top 15 in International Freestyle Rankings.

Even with the setbacks, the 27-year-old Cormier breezed to titles at April's U.S. Nationals and May's U.S. World Team Trials to make his fourth straight World-level team. He will represent the United States at the World Championships on Sept. 26-Oct. 1 in Guangzhou, China.

"I know what I can do and I know what I'm capable of," Cormier said during a break between World Team Camp workouts recently at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. "To be overlooked is a beautiful thing actually. How many times do you see an athlete go into a sporting event overlooked and come out looking like Rocky? All they've done by overlooking me is to give me a better opportunity to become a star. I've beaten just about everybody in the rankings. By not putting me in the top 15 they've just given me a little more incentive to do something special."

Cormier's coaches know he has the ability to excel internationally.

"Daniel's potential is great," said Kevin Jackson, USA Wrestling's National Freestyle Coach. "He is due to win a medal. He will be in the hunt for sure if he stays focused in every practice and controls his weight. He also needs to improve in all team areas of concentration."

Cormier's renewed sense of commitment was evident when he left his Stillwater, Okla., home last week and began working out at the Olympic Training Center four days before the rest of the World Team arrived for training camp.

"Doing some of the extra work has really helped me," said Cormier, who competes for the Gator Wrestling Club. "The coaches have a plan for us and we have to follow it. They will have us in shape and have us prepared to win medals. We need to be in shape to wrestle six hard matches in China."

His battle with the scales has been well-documented.

"Weight had never really been much of an issue for me in the past," he said. "But when it becomes an issue like it has in for the past year you obviously become a lot more conscious of it. I'm not going to say I've done everything right and I'm not going to say my weight's perfect right now. But I'm still six weeks out from the World Championships and I am really going to monitor it better. I'm not going to miss weight."

Eliminating some mental lapses on the mat is another key for Cormier, who wrestled for Oklahoma State and placed second to Cael Sanderson at the 2001 NCAA Championships.

"In the Olympics, I was up 2-0 in the bronze-medal match with a short time left and I ended up losing the match," he said. "Last year at the World Championships I was down 2-1 with 10 seconds left and I was behind the guy to take him down to win the period. But instead I made a mistake and he ends up hip-heisting out and beats me. Mental mistakes I make have beaten me. I am really focused this year on eliminating those mistakes and getting better technically."

The near-misses at the World Championships in 2003 and the Olympics in 2004 aren't what drive Cormier the most.

"What motivates me more than anything is my performance last year," Cormier said. "I felt like I was on the way up and making good progress when I placed fifth and fourth in the World in back-to-back years. I felt like I was always moving forward. But after last year, when you have a huge disappointment like I did, I've really had to step back and look at the areas you need to get better in.

"I lost my way last year and I didn't achieve what I expected of myself, and that's winning medals and World titles. I still expect to be the World champion before my career is over."

When Cormier takes a break from training, he enjoys playing video games on Xbox and PlayStation along with hitting the golf course.

One of his other passions is taking care of the 10 Pit Bulls he has at his home in Stillwater.

"I just love that dog - it's my favorite," he said. "They get a bad rap sometimes because of irresponsible owners that don't know how to take care of them. My dogs wouldn't attack anybody. They're lovable, they like to play around and they don't fight. I cut them loose in my backyard and play around with them. Pit Bulls, that dog is the best. They kind of remind me of myself. They're real protective and loyal, and that's the way I am with my family. And they can be intense and strong, just like I am."

Cormier is part of an American team that is lacking some of the star power and experience of past United States freestyle teams. Only two of the seven World Team members have won World-level medals. Three members of the team are competing in the World Championships for the first time.

"This isn't the World Team people expected, but I have confidence going over there with this team," Cormier said. "The guys on this team are good athletes and good wrestlers, and they've put in the work. We will do fine. These guys are competitors. When people doubt them, it will only push them to do what I believe they're capable of doing and that's winning medals and winning World titles."

Among Cormier's training partners is close friend and 2005 World Team member Mo Lawal, who also was an All-American at Oklahoma State. Lawal was ranked No. 2 in the World this year at 84 kg/185 pounds before being upset by Andy Hrovat at the U.S. World Team Trials. Lawal will serve as Cormier's training partner in China.

"It hurt so much for me to see Mo lose at the Trials - it was horrible because he had such a great year going where he had beaten a World champion and three World medalists," Cormier said. "I think this will make Mo a better wrestler in the long run. He knows you can't take anything for granted because there are guys like Andy Hrovat who won't lay down for you. Mo will be a World champion someday, you can count on that. He's a tremendous talent and he works extremely hard. He gives more to this sport than anybody can ever imagine."

Cormier said Lawal's commitment to helping him is impressive.

"Mo's one of my best friends in the world," Cormier said. "He is very committed to helping me win a medal. He's been in the room with me every day and he's trying to get better too. Our matches are very intense and if I'm not on my game he will beat me. Even though he's not on the World Team this year he is still a big asset to our team, especially to me as he helps me get ready. I can't thank him enough. He's meant so much to me."

Even though he has competed only sparingly this year Cormier still likes his chances in China.

"I really love wrestling and I'm still really passionate about it," said Cormier, who plans to compete at least through the 2008 Olympics. "I haven't wrestled at all (overseas) this year, but I feel really good. I'm disappointed I didn't follow the schedule the coaches set in front of me, but I'm giving 110 percent right now to make up for all the times I haven't done it this year. I'm very excited about the World Championships. I can't wait to get over there and fight and scrap. This is the most excited I've been about wrestling since the Olympics.

"I know I'm a better wrestler now than I was when I almost won medals in 2003 and 2004. I just have to go out and wrestle and perform. I feel like all the skills and physical tools are there. I just have to focus mentally on getting the job done."
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