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1996 Olympic champion Kendall Cross satisfied after winning his comeback challenge match in Russia

Kendall Cross (Colorado Springs, Colo.), a 1996 Olympic champion who had not competed in almost a decade, made a triumphant return to the mats with a victory in an all-star dual meet in Makhachkala, Dagestan, Russia on Nov. 24.

Cross, 38, defeated Adam Batirov of Russia at 60 kg/132 lbs. at the Team of the World Against Team of Russia freestyle dual meet held in this wrestling-hungry region of the world. Cross had not competed since the 1997 World Cup, held in Stillwater, Okla.

Cross won the match in two straight periods, 2-0, 1-0. He scored a two-point hip toss with exposure, from his knees, during the first period, then scored an arm drag takedown on a scramble with just 10 seconds left to capture the second period.

Batirov is the twin brother of 2004 Olympic champion Mavlet Batirov and one of the top athletes in Russia. Adam Batirov was a 2004 European silver medalist and 2003 Junior World silver medalist.

"Technically, I felt in the zone. I felt I was in control," said Cross. "It was different for me than when I wrestled in 1996. Things were clear, and the matches went slower. I have a better sense of things than I had back in 1996. I felt like things went in slow motion.

"I appreciated how I felt in the match," he continued. "There was a lot of clarity in what I wanted to do and accomplish. I attribute it to my experience. I had quit at the top of my game. I haven't wrestled in 10 years. I feel I didn't lose a lot technically."

It was the first time that Cross had ever wrestled in an all-star contest in Russia, and he was excited for the opportunity to compete in this showcase event. The arena was packed with fans, and he was treated with respect during his entire visit there.

"Dagestan was awesome," said Cross. "It is a wrestling mecca. To go there to wrestle, after being an Olympic champion, was a treat. The people treated me like a king. They love the sport there. It was a very good time."

Winning the match confirmed to Cross that he is on track with his comeback attempt.

"I felt good about my decision before I went over there," said Cross. "This is something that was well-thought about. It wasn't a whim. I talked to a lot of people during the process. I tested myself out before I competed. This solidifies in my mind that I am doing the right thing. It is not impossible. I can't be counted out because of my age."

Next up for Cross will be the Dave Schultz Memorial International Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo. in February. He started training this summer, participating in training camps with the U.S. Freestyle World Team. Cross now is living and training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and working with USA Wrestling Freestyle Resident Coach Terry Brands.

"I will hunker down at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and put myself under Coach Terry Brands," said Cross. "I will listen to those guys and do what I need to do to get my body ready. The coaches know I will be prepared for the Dave Schultz Memorial. I have no illusions. This one match doesn't mean I am back to where I was before. But it shows what I can do technically."

Cross will now concentrate on getting into better condition and getting his body into top form for competition.

"I lost physical ability, which I can rebuild. My physical ability wasn't tested in that match. He didn't push me. With the rules the way they are, you don't have to be a marathon runner," Cross said.

Cross was one of just two international stars who were able to win their matches, as Russia defeated the World all-stars 5-2 in the dual meet. The only other member of the Team of the World to win his match was 2006 World champion Ibrahim Aldatov of Ukraine at 74 kg/163 lbs.

"The Russians looked good. They do very well in front of the home crowd. They were all good, competitive bouts. Many of them were very close matches. Some of the guys who lost to the Russians got caught," he said.

Cross placed sixth at 125.5 pounds at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Four years later, he won the gold medal at 125.5 pounds at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Ironically, it was Terry Brands who Cross had to beat to make the Olympic Team, and now Brands is serving as his coach for the comeback attempt.

Russia 5, World Team 2
At Makhachkala, Dagestan, Russia on Nov. 24

55 kg/121 lbs. - Besik Kudukhov (Russia) dec. Namik Abdullaev (Azerbaijan)
60 kg/132 lbs. - Kendall Cross (United States) dec. Adam Batirov
66 kg/145.5 lbs. - Makhach Murtazaliev (Russia) pin Otar Tushishvili (Georgia)
74 kg/163 lbs. - Ibrahim Aldatov (Ukraine) dec. Denis Tsargush (Russia)
84 kg/185 lbs. - Georgi Ketoev (Russia) dec. Revaz Mindorashvili (Georgia)
96 kg/211.5 lbs. - Khadjimurad Gatsalov (Russia) dec. Georgi Gogshelidze (Georgia)
120 kg/264.5 lbs. - Bilyal Makhov (Russia) pin Eldar Kurtanidze (Georgia)
Untitled Document
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