American wrestlers grimace and bear home 7 gold medals

August 13, 1991|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

HAVANA -- There are no wimps on the U.S. freestyle wrestling team. Let other American athletes take shuttle flights to Miami or complain endlessly about the food, the shelter and the weather at the Pan American Games.

The wrestlers simply grimace and bear it.

"Once you've been to Mongolia, Bulgaria and the Soviet Union, you can take anything," U.S. coach Bobby Douglass said.

Last night, the American team overwhelmed the Cubans on the mats in the hot, sticky open-air Mariposa Facility. Seven Americans, led by 1991 Sullivan Award winner John Smith and rising star Brad Penrith, claimed gold medals. The Cubans won in the other three matches.

"This was an excellent performance against a very, very good Cuban team," Douglass said. "We always want to wrestle the best, no matter where we go."

Penrith closed the show with a spectacular 6-4 win over Cuba's Alejandro Puerto, the reigning 125.5-pound world champion.

"I was talking to myself the whole time," said Penrith. "I couldn't believe how easy it was."

Smith (136.5 pounds), Townsend Saunders (149.5), Kenny Monday (163), Kevin Jackson (180.5), Mark Coleman (220) and Bruce Baumgartner (286) also won golds.

The victories didn't come without controversy. The U.S. team accused the Cubans of avoiding weigh-ins.

"It's a scandal," Chris Campbell said after losing his 198-pound match to Cuba's Roberto Limonta, 2-1, in overtime.

"He must have weighed five pounds more than I did," Campbell added. "He hasn't weighed in in days."

The Americans filed a protest about the weigh-ins yesterday, and three Cubans hit the scales, with one disqualification.

"There are always rumors any time you're involved in an international competition," Douglass said. "The home-field advantage comes into play. A diplomatic way of saying it is, they got their hands caught in the cookie jar."

Smith and Anibal Nieves of Puerto Rico nearly came to blows in their match. With 20 seconds left, Smith, who won, 15-3, grew tired of constant head slaps and shoved his opponent off the mat.

"I was getting a little rough and he was getting mad," Nieves said. "He slapped me and I slapped him. That was rough, but it was wrestling. He's a great wrestler, but I don't respect the way he acted."

Smith replied: "There is no reason for a guy like him to slap. I'm not going to take two or three pops for nothing."

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