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GOLDEN BOY! Warren captures World Championship while Durlacher, Lester win bronze on banner day for U.S. Greco-Roman team



GUANGZHOU, China - Three guys with a grand total of three years of World-level experience turned in one of the best days on the mat in American Greco-Roman wrestling history.

Joe Warren, Lindsey Durlacher and Harry Lester kicked off the 2006 World Championships in grand fashion for the United States team as each won medals during the opening day of the tournament Monday at the Tianhe Sports Center.

Warren (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) became only the fifth American wrestler to win a Greco-Roman World Championship, earning a dramatic finals wins at 60 kg/132 pounds. Warren rallied for a thrilling 1-1, 4-1, 2-1 win over Georgia's David Bedinadze in the gold-medal match.

Warren's win capped a banner day for the U.S. squad. Durlacher (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) captured a bronze medal at 55 kg/121 pounds before Lester (Akron, Ohio/USOEC/Gator WC) followed with a second bronze for Team USA at 66 kg/145.5 pounds.

The three U.S. wrestlers, who each competed in their first World meet in 2005, combined to go an unthinkable 13-2 in their matches on Monday. None of the three medaled last year in this event. There are still four Greco-Roman weight classes to be contested in the 2006 World Championships, but the American team already has equaled its best medal count ever at a World meet with three medals.

The U.S. team achieved another first as it leads the Greco-Roman team race at the World Championships. The Americans have 26 points with their first-third-third finish on Monday. Other champions crowned Monday were Iran's Hamid Sourian, who repeated as champion at 55 kg. The hometown favorite, China's Li Yan Yan, won the title at 66 kg while backed by a boisterous cheering section.

Tied 1-1 late in the match, Warren delivered the move of his life by slipping behind Bedinadze for what proved to be the winning takedown with 19 seconds left. Warren leaped to his feet after the win, raised his right arm and extended his index finger, and then executed a flip in celebration of the win.

Warren joins a select group of Americans who have won gold medals in this event. He is the first U.S. wrestler to win gold in the World Championships since Dremiel Byers in 2002. Byers will compete Wednesday at 120 kg/264.5 pounds.

The scrappy, relentless, never-say-die style of Warren, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., and a past NCAA All-American at Michigan, was the difference in the finals match as he gave himself a huge early birthday present. He turns 30 in a couple of weeks.

"I never quit," Warren said. "I'm the happiest man in the world. I have been working on this my whole life. I had a great supporting cast with my coaches and family. I'm the baddest man on the planet and I wanted to say that for years."

Warren seemed unfazed while trailing during this tournament, but he was concerned in the closing stages in the finals.

"I thought I screwed myself and lost the World Championship," he said. "I never give up. I believed in myself and I wouldn't quit. I pulled it off. I knew I could win. I stood up, took a deep breath and took one more chance. I am so happy. I feel like crying."

Warren capped a phenomenal day where he earlier knocked off a World gold, silver and bronze medalist en route to the finals. He went 5-0 on Friday in just his second World meet. He placed ninth in this event last year.

"Now I work for next year," Warren said. "Hopefully, I win one more of these, then an Olympic gold medal."

Durlacher shook off a heartbreaking semifinal loss to World champion Hamid Sourian of Iran to earn a 4-0, 2-0 win over Bulgaria's Venelin Venkov in their bronze-medal match. Durlacher, a veteran who turned 32 earlier this month, captured his first World-level medal. The past All-American at Illinois made his first World team last year and used that experience to medal this year.

"That was just a start - I want the gold next year," Durlacher said. "I've got a responsibility to my country to win medals at the World and Olympic competitions. Brandon Paulson and Dennis Hall have performed in past years and it is my job to fill their shoes. I am trying to fill that gap, the tradition of great American Greco-Roman lightweights."

Lester swept Turkey's 1997 World champion Seref Eroglu 4-3, 4-3 in his bronze-medal match. Lester won three matches in the Repechage, coming back strong after a second-round loss to eventual finalist and silver medalist Kamatbek Begaliev of Kyrgysztan.

Lester, who turns 23 later this week, beat World Champion Nikolay Gergov of Bulgaria 3-0, 1-2, 1-1 to advance to the bronze-medal match. Lester started the tournament by beating World silver medalist Kim Min Chul of Korea in the first round.

Lester becomes the first member of the U.S. Olympic Education Center program at Northern Michigan to capture a World-level medal. His teammate at the USOEC, Spenser Mango, won a gold medal at the World University Games earlier this year.

"I knew if I got a second chance I wouldn't waste it," Lester said. "I knew if I got there, I would give 150 percent, everything in my tank. I knew I had more to give. I'm satisfied with the way I wrestled."

Day 2 of the seven-day tournament continues Tuesday with the Greco-Roman competition at 74 kg/163 pounds, 84 kg/185 pounds and 96 kg/211.5 pounds. Americans T.C. Dantzler (Colorado Springs, Colo./Gator WC), Jacob Clark (Okinawa, Japan/U.S. Marine Corps) and Justin Ruiz (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) will compete on Tuesday. Dantzler will be at 74 kg, Clark at 84 kg and Ruiz at 96 kg. Ruiz won a bronze medal in this event in 2005.
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