SYDNEY - Brandon Slay never doubted he would win a gold medal in wrestling at the 2000 Olympics.
With one more win the Amarillo, Texas, native can prove to the rest of the world that he was right. His opponent in the 167.5-pound gold medal match Saturday will be Alexander Leipold of Germany, 1994 World champion and multiple World medalist.
Slay has never wrestled Leipold, but he feels ready. "I watched video on Leipold," he said. "I know if I keep wrestling the way I'm wrestling, up to my potential, then I win tomorrow night."
Wrestling in his first major international competition, Slay beat Adem Bereket of Turkey in a tough semifinal match Friday at the Sydney Exhibition Centre to get the chance to fulfill his golden dreams. Afterwards he took the victory in stride, appearing calm and controlled. There was little hint that the biggest match of his life was coming up.
"That match (against Bereket) wasn't really that bad because I really didn't have to worry about him coming at me and attacking me that much," said Slay. "So it takes a lot of stress off you as a wrestler because you know the guy you're wrestling's not very good on his feet.
"It allows you to open up. All I had to do was make sure he didn't lift me or throw me for three there. I prevented him from doing that and everything worked out the way I wanted it to."
Because there was no scoring in the first three-minute period, the second period started out with the wrestlers in a standing clinch. Slay tried to throw Bereket, and the referee said he broke his hands in the attempt and was hit with a caution and one point penalty.
He tied the match quickly on a reversal at 3:48 at 1-1. At the 4:00 mark, Slay scored a two-point gut wrench for a 3-1 lead, which he held until the final whistle. Turkey protested the match, but the protest was denied.
Slay was called for passivity with 18 seconds left, and when he was put in the down position he had to hold on to prevent Bereket flipping him.
"It worked out well," he said. "There were 18 seconds left. I knew they were going to leave me down the whole rest of that time. So it was pretty much 18 seconds to victory and as long as I could keep from getting turned, I was going to win.
The United States went a perfect 8-0 on the day, and has shown why it is considered a leading power in freestyle wrestling. Sammy Henson of Norman, Okla., qualified for the gold-medal match at 119 pounds, after stopping German Kontoev of Belarus, 3-0. Henson scored all three points in the first period, turning Kontoev with a two-point gut wrench, then holding him for five seconds for point number three. There was no scoring in the second period.
The opponent for Henson in the gold-medal finals will be Namik Abdullayev of Azerbaijan, who Henson beat in the 1998 World finals in Tehran, Iran. Henson also is competing in his first Olympic Games.
Slay beat his toughest opponent in the second round of pool play, upsetting the best active freestyle wrestler in the world, Bouvaisa Saitiev, a three-time world champion and Olympic champion from Russia. He won 4-3 in overtime.
But his weight class is full of dangerous wrestlers, so Slay has had to be careful not to get too excited about beating Saitiev.
"I was exuberant in regards to that victory for a few hours but I pretty much had to close that door of my life and focus on this morning," Slay said Friday before who he knew who he would face for the gold medal. "That match was different because the way that pool system works you can have the toughest guy in the tournament in the second round.
"To me that's the way I felt it was. I had Satiev in the second round. I knew I could beat the Turk and I know I can beat these two guys right here.
"I knew I could beat Satiev. I wouldn't have come to this Olympics Games if I didn't think I could win. I wouldn't have spent the last two years of my life at the Olympic Training Center and sacrificing my life in the business world to wrestle if I didn't think I could win the gold medal."
After being a three-time Texas high school champion, Slay wrestled at the University of Pennsylvania, finishing second in the 1997 and 1998 NCAA Championships. He received a degree in finance and management from the Wharton School of Business in 1998.
Then he became a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
USA Wrestling Resident Freestyle Coach Kevin Jackson said Slay has improved greatly since joining the center.
"It's his commitment to the sport," said Jackson. "He's a student of the sport. He has really committed himself to wrestling. He made the decision to come to Colorado Springs to train from the University of Pennsylvania. He is very coachable. He listens to what (the coaches) tell him."
Though he is a relative unknown in international wrestling, Slay has done a lot to prepare for the Olympics. He said he thought he might have an advantage because the other wrestlers wouldn't be familiar with his style, but he would know them because of all the video he's watched.
"I've watched video on all these guys," said Slay. "I've been doing a lot of homework. Coming to the Olympics is just like taking a final."
So far Slay has scored straight A's on exams on the Olympic mat.
Reviewing the Bereket match, Slay thought he did what he had planned going into the match. But he disagreed with the point award after the clinch was broken.
"That was my move on that clinch," he said. "I'm the one who initiated that whole thing. My hands never came untied. And he just slipped away from me. My hands didn't come unlocked and they gave him the point.
"That clinch is such a subjective position it doesn't even need to be involved in our sport. It leaves too much up to the referee instead of leaving the sport up to the wrestlers."
And how will he prepare for the chance to claim Olympic gold?
"I'm going to relax and spend time with my family, which I really haven't done my whole time here in Sydney," Slay said after the Bereket match. "I will go to bed around 11 p.m. I don't have to get up early in the morning. I can rest all day tomorrow and all I have to focus on is wrestling 6 minutes."
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