Originally created 09/27/00

Wrestler hopes to surprise competitors



SYDNEY - Brandon Slay took plenty of time to study his Olympic opponents, all of whom he's never met on the mat, but it's likely they haven't been learning about him, he said.

"I'm going to be the one no one has heard of, and I think that's going to be a great advantage," said the Amarillo native. "I've been able to center myself both emotionally and physically and I've been able to soley focus on freestyle wrestling."

Slay, 25, rattled off the weaknesses of his three opponents with ease when asked. He knows the Russian wrestler's tall, lanky form will easily succumb to Slay's solid, 5 foot 8 inch frame. Wrestling at 167 pounds, he knows he'll have to match the German on mat points and fight off the Turkish opponent's trademark lift of wrestlers off the mat.

Since he's never wrestled any of the Olympic competitors, Slay said his little-known status will help suprise his opponents with tactics they've probably never studied.

"I hope if I get out there and wrestle smart, they'll be wondering why they hadn't taken me more seriously," he said.

The entire eight-member U.S. wrestling team took several days last week to train at a camp two hours outside of Sydney, looking for a chance to relax before the competition began. Slay said the hiatus was reminiscent of being at home in the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where he's been preparing for the Sydney games for two years.

"It was really nice to have the training center, my own room and the cafeteria within 300 yards," he said, smiling.

Slay credits this year's successes, which includes a top finish at the recent U.S. Nationals, to the Colorado training facility. He said his time in the exclusive center has helped him regain his confidence and put him in top physical form.

"I think the other thing I've found in Colorado Springs is a real sense of inner peace," he said Monday, following a press conference marking the team's arrival in Sydney. "I've found a wonderful church and found a wonderful group of friends. I think when you surround yourself with positive, uplifting people, you think that way yourself."

Slay's coaches are already calling him the potential suprise of the American wrestling team. His family has gathered a crew of 20 Texans to cheer him on, and Slay said he's amply prepared for competition and roundy fans.

The coaches said the entire team, however, is positioned well for a series of gold medal performances.

"They've trained hard enough to where they are more than prepared to win Olympic gold medals," said John Smith, the co-head coach and two-time Olympic gold medalist. "It was good for us to get away, even though we had TV's in our rooms, and we were watching to see who was winning."

The Tascosa High School graduate will weigh in for his first Olympic competition on September 27 and heads to the mat the following day in Sydney's scenic Darling Harbour.