August 22, 2004 11:59 am
Wrestler's long journey finally reaches Olympics
ATHENS, Greece - Ten years ago, Oscar Wood was the star, the can't-miss phenom in United States high school wrestling.
Then the polish and promise faded for Wood, the ASICS Tiger 1994 national high school wrestler of the year.
But now, a long, difficult decade later, Wood has another chance to win a championship - the ultimate championship - as a U.S. Greco-Roman Olympic wrestler. Wood's 145.5-pound competition begins Tuesday at the Ano Liossia Olympic Hall.
``If you would've told me in 1994 I wouldn't make a world team or Olympic team until now, I might've retired then,'' said Wood, 29. ``As long as you can feel like you're in it, and stay close, you keep plugging away.''
Wood forged a solid career at Oregon State - two all-American finishes, including third as a junior - but was regarded as a future NCAA champion after a 124-1 high school career at Sam Barlow, Ore.
Wood finished seventh as a freshman and used that momentum to go 28-0 a year later before his season was derailed because of a knee injury.
He was ranked No. 1 as a senior, but he unraveled at his final NCAA tournament and did not place.
``I did feel like my college career was unsuccessful,'' Wood said. ``My record was good, but I just didn't get it done at the right time.''
At the Olympic trials in May, Wood finally broke through on the U.S. scene by sweeping 2000 Olympian Kevin Bracken in a best-of-three series.
Oscar Wood was back.
``Now I can see what I've been working for for a decade,'' he said.
Wood won four national junior championships in Greco-Roman, which utilizes upper-body throws and prohibits wrestlers from attacking an opponent's legs.
Now he wrestles for more than just himself.
He and his wife, Lisa, have four children: Gracey, 5; Mkenna 3; Emma, 2; and Colton, 8 months. Wood said 24 family members are coming to Athens to watch him compete.
``My wife is absolutely amazing,'' said Wood, a sergeant in the U.S. Army. ``She's a Supermom. I get plenty of time with the kids, more than most dads, probably, but she allows me to keep working.
``My wife takes up the big slack. She's got the most important job in the world.''
So the wife, the children, the family and the friends will assemble in Athens to watch Wood chase a championship 10 years in the making.
``I feel like I'm in a real good position,'' he said. ``I'm not here just for the experience of it.''
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COMMENTARY AND PERSPECTIVE
MIKE LOPRESTI | Gannett News Service
IAN O'CONNOR | The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News
CHRISTINE BRENNAN | USA TODAY
DAN BICKLEY | The Arizona Republic
LYNN HENNING | The Detroit News
BOB KRAVITZ | The Indianapolis Star
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