SYDNEY - At 37, most men would consider themselves past their physical prime. But Melvin Douglas isn't most men.
The 213-pound wrestler from Topeka, KS, said he's never been in better shape and never wanted a win as much as he does now. The only member of the U.S. wrestling team with Olympic experience, Douglas said he's learned from his mistakes in Atlanta and plans to win the coveted gold medal this week.
"I'm 37 years old. No one expects me to win," he said, at a press conference Monday. "I'm going into this with a great attitude. I'm the one to beat here and I'm going to take them by suprise."
In 1996, Douglas finished seventh in the Olympic freestyle wrestling competiton. The year 2000, he said, is definitely his year. In the U.S. Nationals this year, he took his eighth career first-place finish. On the U.S. Olympic team, Douglas is considered the quickest wrestler, with a lengthy list of top finishes in international competition.
"People in America think when you reach a certain age, you are supposed to get weaker, but that's just not the case," he said, relaxing after the press briefing. "I'm ready for this. It's good to be here in Australia. It's nice to be able to drink the water."
Suprisingly, Douglas doesn't consider himself a mentor to the team, seeing as he's the only one with an Olympic competition under his belt and the eldest of the bunch.
"We are all individuals on this team," he said. "I feel like, from watching everyone on the team, that they are all ready for the Olympics. I feel good about that. If they needed some guidance, I'd give it to them, but I don't think that will happen."
Team U.S.A. spent several days at a training facility two hours outside Sydney to escape the Olympic distractions. In addition to practices, the team went to the movies and worked in a round of golf.
Douglas said he was looking for a more authentic Australian experience than eating native cuisine. He drove fellow teammate Sammie Henson about to the movies, a two-mile jaunt, and said he fared well driving on the opposite side of the car and staying on the left side of the road.
"I said, 'Sammie, you've got to make sure I stay on the wrong side of the road here,'" he said, with a mischievious smile. "I even took some turns. I did OK."
Douglas said the drive was the high point of the night, as the feature at the movie theater was Super Nova.
Now that the team has returned to the Olympic city, Douglas said he's finished with road adventures and ready to begin competition. His parents, who raised the money to fly to Sydney through a church dinner and public donations, have also arrived to watch their son.
"I've got to know exactly where they are before I get on the mat," he said.
"If I don't, I won't start until I find them."
As of Monday, he hadn't see them.
"I'm wrestling for me and them," Douglas said. "They did a lot of work to get here. This is a very special thing."
The coaching staff said the team will bring more success for the United
States, who has lead the medal tally since competition began September 15.
"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."
Douglas will weigh in September 27 and meets his first opponent on the matt in scenic Darling Harbour the next day.