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Athens 2004

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August 25, 2004 9:15 am

Controversy mars wrestler's elimination


Gannett News Service

ATHENS, Greece - Minutes after a controversial end to his Olympic career in Greco-Roman wrestling on Wednesday, Garrett Lowney struggled to explain what had happened.

A long videotape review of a call that could have tied Lowney's overtime match with Hungary's Lajos Virag instead awarded points to his opponent.

The decision in the 211.5-pound match at Ano Liossia Olympic Hall left Lowney staring blanking at officials, and United States coaches and the 2000 Olympic bronze medalist stunned.

``It was some phantom two points that ended the match,'' Lowney said.

Lowney, of Freedom, Wis., trailed Virag 2-0 as the match moved to overtime because neither wrestler had accumulated the three points needed for a victory in regulation.

The wrestlers began overtime in the clinch, when the referee places opponents together, chest to chest, with hands locked on the back of the other.

The first wrestler to break the locked hands must make an immediate and successful offensive move or the other is awarded a point.

Lowney lost his grip and the two tumbled to the mat, where Virag was given a point. United States coaches lobbied for officials to review the tape because they felt Lowney had exposed Virag's back to the mat during the scramble and should be awarded two points.

The match was stopped just more than 30 seconds later.

When they returned a decision, though, everyone wearing U.S. colors froze in disbelief. Instead of a tie, or the score remaining 2-0, Virag led 4-0 and the match - and Lowney's Olympics - were over.

``I watched the replay on the big screen, and I don't know where they got those last two points,'' Lowney said.

U.S. coach Steve Fraser said he was told the points were awarded for a leg foul.

In Greco-Roman wrestling, only upper-body moves are allowed and no offensive attacks involving the legs are permitted.

``Where they came up with a leg foul, I don't know,'' Fraser said. ``I don't get it.''

Lowney lost his opening match in the three-man pool 3-1 to Cuba's Ernesto Pena.

``It happens all the time,'' said Lowney, a two-time NCAA All-American at Minnesota. ``They (officials) have too much power, there's too much gray area in all the calls. And refs can manipulate what they want.

``They can see a lot of different things on the same replay.''

Lowney, 24, said before taking the mat that he expects this to be his last Olympics.

The end of his career, though, was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

``Any 10, 12, 15 guys can win it at this weight class,'' he said. ``You need a little bit of luck to do it, and obviously, I got the wrong kind of luck.''

Also in Wednesday's Greco-Roman competition, Milwaukee-born Jim Gruenwald dug himself a huge hole before storming back to defeat Portugal's Hugo Passos at 132 pounds.

Gruenwald surrendered a seven-point move in the final 22 seconds of the first period and trailed 7-0. One minute later, though, he had turned Passos three times for an 8-7 lead before winning by pin in 5 minutes, 41 seconds.

The 2000 Olympian still had another match in his three-man pool to wrestle later Wednesday. Winners of pools advance to the medal round.



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