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Daniel Cormier focused, driven and ready to make run at first World freestyle championship



Daniel Cormier has been known to take a week or two off after a big competition.

But not this year.

A couple of days after winning the 2007 U.S. World Team Trials on June 9 in Las Vegas, Cormier was back working out again as he went out and ran a couple of miles.

Cormier is determined to stay in peak condition and manage his weight better as he still hopes to live up to the lofty expectations everyone had for him after he placed fifth at the 2003 World Championships and fourth at the 2004 Olympics.

But the last two years have been disappointing for Cormier as he failed to place at the World Championships in 2005 and 2006.

The 28-year-old vows this year will be different. It looked like the Cormier of old in Vegas when he took two straight matches from the talented Mo Lawal in the World Team Trials freestyle finals at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. He now advances to September's World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Many observers said it is the best Cormier has looked since he came within an eyelash of winning an Olympic medal three years ago in Athens, Greece.

"I didn't wrestle well last year, I didn't prepare as well as I should have, I didn't train as hard as I should have, I didn't wrestle as many matches as I should have and I didn't cut weight the way I should have," Cormier said. "I wasted a lot of time and I didn't take advantage of my opportunity. I've made a conscious effort to do things better this year. I'm training harder and doing the right things."

Cormier's issues with his weight are well-known and well-documented. He struggled to make 96 kilos at the World Team Trials and World Championships in 2006. He lost his first match of the World meet in Guangzhou, China, and failed to place.

"I didn't manage my weight very well and it cost me," Cormier said. "All I did was cut weight the five days before the World Championships. All I did was sauna and bike, sauna and bike - it wears you down. I can't do it again. I will do it differently this year and keep my weight down better."

Many wrestling observers wondered if that was Cormier's last competition at 211.5 pounds. He started this season by bumping up a weight to 120 kg/264.5 pounds for the Dave Schultz Memorial International.

Cormier more than held his own at the Schultz, winning the title at heavyweight. Three wrestlers he beat in that event - Tommy Rowlands, Steve Mocco and Pat Cummins - finished 1-2-3 at 120 kilos in last weekend's World Team Trials.

Cormier had planned to compete at March's World Cup in Russia, but after arriving in Moscow was told his passport was damaged and he was sent back home.

Cormier dropped back down to 211.5 for the U.S. Nationals and beat Lawal, his close friend and fellow Oklahoma State alumnus, in the finals. Lawal, a 2005 World Team member, had moved up a weight class this year and was considered by many the favorite to make the World Team at 211.5 this year.

Preparing to face Lawal at the U.S. Nationals and U.S. World Team Trials has made a difference for Cormier, a past NCAA runner-up who trains in Stillwater, Okla.

"I went through some tough training - I was really prepared and focused for the Trials," Cormier said. "Having Mo in the weight class, I had to make sure I was ready to step on the mat. Coach (John) Smith, Coach (Mark) Branch and Coach (Eric) Guerrero got me prepared. Knowing I was going to face Mo was a major kick to motivate me. I know Mo trains hard and does things right."

Facing Lawal this time was different for Cormier.

"The matches were a lot more intense this time - Mo came at me a lot harder than he did at the U.S. Open," Cormier said. "The first time we wrestled it was really hard because we are such good friends. We put the friendship on the backburner this time. We both knew what was at stake and we both wanted to be on that World Team. I felt that sense of urgency he had and I expected a very tough match from him. That's exactly what I got."

Part of Cormier's preparation to meet Lawal included keeping his weight more under control.

"That was a big key for me," Cormier said. "I wasn't just focused on cutting weight. I was focused on my game plan as far as how I needed to execute once I stepped on the mat."

Now that he has moved past Lawal, Cormier is focused on beating guys like World and Olympic champion Khadjimurad Gatsalov of Russia. Gatsalov won the 2004 Olympics before winning back-to-back World titles in 2005 and 2006.

Cormier fell 5-0 in overtime against Gatsalov in the semifinals of the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

"Mo's really good and Gatsalov is great," Cormier said. "Now I need to focus on that dude. Preparing to face Gatsalov will help me like preparing for Mo did for the Trials. Gatsalov is the best. He is, pound-for-pound, one of the best in the World. I know I can beat him - it can be done. And that's what I'm preparing for over the next three months."

USA Wrestling National Freestyle Coach Kevin Jackson knows how much potential Cormier has.

"Cormier is far overdue to win a medal," Jackson said. "We expect him to win a medal this year and be in the hunt for the gold. He is one of the few people in the World that is good enough to beat Gatsalov."

Cormier plans to compete along with the rest of the U.S. World Team at the Pan American Games late next month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"The Pan Ams will help me a lot," he said. "It will give me an opportunity to get more matches in and give me another real good competition before the World Championships."

Cormier, who competes for the Gator Wrestling Club, still is a dangerous and explosive wrestler with the ability to throw people and attack the legs effectively. He also is strong defensively, something he proved again at the World Team Trials.

Cormier allowed just a total of one point in his two victories over Lawal in the championship series at the World Team Trials. Cormier won the first match over Lawal 2-1, 1-0 before taking the second bout 1-0, 1-0.

"My focus is back now," Cormier said. "I'm as focused, driven and hungry as I've ever been. The fire burns in me as strong as ever to be the best. I need to be more consistent and eliminate the little mistakes that have cost me in the past. If I can get it rolling, I can compete with anybody. I want to be a World champion this year - I know I can do it."
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