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T.C. Dantzler hoping momentum carries over after strong finish at World Championships

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Winning wrestling matches at the World Championships is a daunting enough task when you are healthy.

Try doing it with a completely torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament in your knee.

That's what T.C. Dantzler did last September at the World Championships in Guangzhou, China. And he just narrowly missed flying back across the Pacific Ocean with a medal.

Dantzler turned in his best performance in four trips to the World Championships, placing fifth in Greco-Roman wrestling at 74 kg/163 pounds. His two losses in China came to a pair of past World champions - Finland's Marko Yli-Hannuksela and Georgia's Manuchar Krirkvelia - in close, hard-fought bouts that went the full three periods.

Dantzler underwent surgery three days after he returned home and he finally was cleared to resume training a couple weeks ago. He left Wednesday afternoon to join his United States teammates for this weekend's World Cup in Antalya, Turkey. Keith Sieracki, a past World Team member, will replace Dantzler on the U.S. World Cup roster at 74 kg.

"I am going over there to train and to help the guys on our team stay motivated," Dantzler said. "We know we can win this tournament. I am also going to keep my eye on the guys I will face at the World Championships."

Dantzler (Colorado Springs, Colo./Gator WC) is hoping a strong finish at the 2007 World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, will prepare him for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.

"I got back on the mat about two weeks ago and just started to go live again," he said. "I'm shooting for my return at (April's U.S.) Nationals. But if I'm not where I need to be or where my coaches think I should be, then I may need to petition for the World Team Trials (in June).

"My knee feels 80 percent better than it did at the World Championships. It's like night and day. The muscle strength is back in my leg and it feels a lot better."

The U.S. placed third in the team race at the 2006 World Championships and has its sights set on winning the World Cup. The American team is led by past World champions Dremiel Byers at 120 kg/264.5 pounds and Joe Warren at 60 kg/132 pounds.

The World Cup is a dual-meet event where the top six finishers from the 2006 World Championships are invited to compete. The U.S. Greco-Roman squad finished third behind team champion Turkey and runner-up Russia at the 2006 World Championships.

"We want to win the World Cup and set a precedent for the World Championships and let everybody know we are solid at every weight class," Dantzler said. "We have somebody who has placed in the top five in the World at every weight class now. We are confident we can beat any team in the World. We can beat all those guys."

Wrestling with an injury put a limit on what the explosive Dantzler could do at the 2006 World meet, but he still managed to place in the top five after not placing in his three previous trips to the Worlds.

Dantzler excels down on the mat in the par terre position with an array of lifts and turns. The 2005 rules changes, that incorporated use of a reverse lift for each wrestler in each period, plays to Dantzler's strengths and has helped extend his career.

"I was holding back a little bit at the Worlds because I couldn't attack as much with the ACL tear," said Dantzler, who trains at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. "I couldn't be as aggressive as I normally am with my reverse lift because I wasn't able to move as well from one side to another like I normally do. I had to be a lot more conservative."

The U.S. failed to qualify the 74 kg weight class for the Olympics in 2004. Dantzler actually dropped down to 66 kg/145.5 pounds for the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials, but the massive reduction in weight took its toll on him and he was unable to make the American squad. He placed third at the 2000 Olympic Trials.

"It was very frustrating when we didn't qualify the weight class for the Olympics," Dantzler said. "It was one of the hardest times in my life because I cut all the way down to 66 kilograms to try and make the team. I hadn't weighed 145 since I was in high school. It was just plain embarrassing to not qualify the weight. I am going to make sure it doesn't happen again."

USA Wrestling National Greco-Roman Coach Steve Fraser said he is eager to see Dantzler return to competition this year.

"T.C. should come back a lot stronger and more confident this season because his knee has been repaired," Fraser said. "His recovery from surgery is ahead of schedule and he is hungrier than ever. He had his best performance ever in China and his chances this year are great. The key to T.C.'s success is to get right back at it, when able, work harder than ever, and believe deep in his heart that he can and should win the gold."

Dantzler still is focused on his dream of winning a World and Olympic gold medal.

"I know I can do it - I know I should have already won a medal by now," he said. "I know I am right there with the top guys in the weight class and I know I can win a World title this year. It's been a long time since I've been healthy. It's not going to be fair when I'm back healthy again and with these rules. I will be able to fully showcase my skills and I don't think anybody can stop me. I'm really excited about this season."
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