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Sam Hazewinkel focused on making first U.S. World Team in Greco-Roman wrestling

Up until last week, Sam Hazewinkel was the owner of a passport filled with blank pages.

He had never competed in a wrestling tournament outside the United States.

That changed last weekend when Hazewinkel won a bronze medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the Pan American Championships in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Hazewinkel hopes that his passport's stamp collection will grow significantly over the next handful of years as he takes aim at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China and the 2012 Olympics in London. He placed third at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

The 23-year-old Hazewinkel is focused full-time on Greco-Roman wrestling now and will take the No. 1 seed at 55 kg/121 lbs. into the U.S. World Team Trials on June 8-10 in Las Vegas. If he wins the Trials, Hazewinkel will qualify for the World Championships on Sept. 17-23 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Hazewinkel won the U.S. Nationals last month in Las Vegas despite being unseeded. He was named Outstanding Wrestler. That title earned him the top seed for the World Team Trials.

"It was a good win for me in Vegas," Hazewinkel said. "It's been a while since I won a big tournament. Winning U.S. Nationals was really nice, but everybody knows it's the Trials that really matter."

Hazewinkel hopes to follow in the famous footsteps of his father, Dave, and his uncle, Jim, who both competed in Greco-Roman for the U.S. at the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games.

"Sammy is a great prospect to succeed in Greco," said Steve Fraser, USA Wrestling's National Greco-Roman Coach. "The key for him to prepare to win internationally is to get great training partners and the right training situation. He needs tough and skilled guys testing him daily. He needs to get into the groove of Greco and improve his skills.

"Sammy has many great strengths. I really like his positive and tough attitude. He seems very coachable and seems very willing to learn. He is a class guy who can be as good as he wants to be in this sport. He is a pleasure to work with."

Hazewinkel rebounded in impressive fashion at the U.S. Nationals. That win came just a couple of weeks after he finished a disappointing second at his final NCAA meet in Auburn Hills, Mich. Hazewinkel had placed third at his first three NCAA tournaments, but rolled into the finals a couple months ago as the No. 1 seed at 125 pounds.

Hazewinkel met Nebraska sophomore Paul Donahoe, a wrestler he was 3-0 against, in the finals. The sixth-seeded Donahoe pulled out a stunning 3-1 overtime win.

Hazewinkel had torn his Lateral Collateral Ligament at the National Duals in January and sat out a month of competition. But Hazewinkel, a class act on and off the mat, refuses to use that as an excuse.

"I felt fine going into the NCAAs and my knee really wasn't bothering me," Hazewinkel said. "I just had a bad match. I was wrestling really well up until the finals. Donahoe followed his game plan perfectly and had a great tournament. He wrestled well. I really wanted to win it and I have used that match as a reminder I need to go out there with the right mindset every time."

Hazewinkel, who competes for the Gator Wrestling Club, had plenty of reason to be motivated after that setback. In addition to the sting of the loss, he was not seeded in the top four at the U.S. Nationals even though he finished 2005 and 2006 ranked No. 2 in the country at his weight class.

In fact, Hazewinkel had placed in the top three at every previous U.S. Nationals and Olympic or World Team Trials from 2004-06.

In the 2007 U.S. Nationals, Hazewinkel knocked off 2006 World University champion Spenser Mango and 2006 World bronze medalist Lindsey Durlacher en route to the title. He placed second to Durlacher the last two years at the Trials.

"Not being seeded, I didn't take it personally but I think it helped me out," Hazewinkel said. "I like to think I am pretty good at not letting that stuff get to me. I went in with the idea that it was kind of like the Olympics where you could draw an Olympic champion first round. I wanted to show everybody I should've been seeded. Coach Fraser talked to me the night before the tournament and told me not to worry about not being seeded and just wrestle. That helped me a lot."

Hazewinkel also won the U.S. Nationals in Greco-Roman in 2005.

"I've won Vegas a couple times, but the World Team Trials is the one tournament I haven't won in Greco yet," he said. "I'm a lot more focused now that I'm done wrestling folkstyle. I will be facing the same people I've wrestled every year in Greco. I feel like it's my time to start making these World Teams."

Hazewinkel said he doesn't consider it added pressure that his father and uncle were Olympians, and that there is an expectation that he will follow in their footsteps.

"I grew up under my dad's coaching and I always looked at it as an advantage I had," said Hazewinkel, who won three Florida state titles while competing for his father in Pensacola, Fla. "My dad is behind me 100 percent no matter what happens. It helps a lot to know that he's been there and my uncle's been there. They help me a lot with the mental aspect of the sport. They taught me the basics since I was 8 years old."

Hazewinkel, who graduated from Oklahoma with a degree in communications, said he hopes to eventually become a coach. He continues to train in the Sooner wrestling room in Norman, Okla. He also has spent time wrestling at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

He said the support of his wife, Rachel, also has been a blessing. They were married in July of 2006. She is still a student at OU.

"My wife does a great job supporting me," he said, "and helping out any way she can."

Hazewinkel said he has not ruled out competing in freestyle wrestling at some point down the road.

"If there was a way for me to do both I would," he said. "I can't really do both with the way the weigh-ins and the schedule are set up now. I'm a little better at Greco and I need to focus on Greco right now. I would love to win a medal in both styles. That's something I would love to accomplish."

Hazewinkel said competing outside the U.S. for the first time has made a difference for him.

"The experience helped me a lot," he said. "I have some holes and some areas I definitely need to work on. I went in there to win it and I didn't wrestle as well as I wanted to. That helped put the fire back under me."
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