SYDNEY - Brandon Slay, of Amarillo, Texas, lost the Olympic gold medal in anger but celebrated his silver by praising God, family and friends.
Slay had worked for years to get to this point, and after beating the best freestyle wrestler in the world earlier this week he was certain the gold medal was his.
But a cagey, experienced European wrestler, combined with some questionable officiating, cut short his dream of becoming an Olympic champion.
Alexander Leipold of Germany beat Slay 4-0 in a controversial match at the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre Saturday night. The first three points were awarded to Leipold for cautions against Slay. Throughout the match Slay clearly was the aggressor, while Slay sat back and waited for Slay to make a mistake.
"I'm immediately bitter for what has happened," said Slay "It's tough to know he's the Olympic medalist and he didn't take one shot at me. He didn't earn any points. They were all given to him."
Slay and his coaches were upset but there was nothing they could do because wrestling rules forbid protests in medal matches.
"They didn't let us wrestle," said a bitterly disappointed Slay after the 167.5-pound match. "That match was out of my control."
When neither wrestler scored a point in the first three-minute period, they started the second in a standing clinch. Leipold won a coin toss and was supposed to lock his arms around Slay first and then Slay would follow.
The German complained that he couldn't get his arms around Slay because Slay kept backing up. After three tries the referee gave Slay a caution for not following the rules and awarded Leipold two points.
"He wasn't speaking, but he was whining and crying like a baby," said Slay. "He was acting, acting for the officials, hoping they would give him the points, and they did."
Slay had to go to the mat with Leipold on top and a short time later he received another caution. A third point was awarded to the German.
Asked what the cautions were for, Slay said he was mystified.
"I'm not sure either," he said. "That was in their hands (the officials)."
USA Wrestling National Freestyle Coach Bruce Burnett also was upset about the calls.
"I've been doing this job for 10 years and it's really confusing to me also," he said. "Clearly they took the match out of the hands of the wrestlers. I saw one guy very aggressive and one guy passive, and the aggressive guy was wearing the red suit (Slay)."
Leipold said Slay wouldn't stand up straight, so he couldn't get his arms around Slay at the start of the second period. "He went back with his back, and I can't get the hold," said Leipold. "I tried three times and he kept going back, back, back.
On the third point I tried to catch him and he grabbed my fingers, so that's a foul."
"I lowered and let him lock his hands up," said Slay. "He was where he could easily lock his hands and he didn't even try.
"I don't believe it was fair. I don't believe I was treated fairly.
"I have a belief that politics is a huge part of this sport, but I'm not placing the blame for my loss in the match on politics. It's infuriating to know that you've given it your all and you can still have it taken away from you.
"This is the worst I've ever felt after a loss in my life."
Slay was clearly upset at the end of the match and was booed by the crowd for pulling his hand away from the referee during the formal announcement of the winner.
Later Slay said he wasn't trying to make a point by pulling his hand away from the referee.
"I was sick to my stomach over how that match was called," he said. "I felt I wasn't in control of the situation."
He calmed down later and said while he didn't understand the decision, he was still grateful for everything wrestling has given him.
"I still give glory to God for everything I've experienced in this tournament and everything he's given to me. I guess God showed me there is more than gold. I came up short here, but there is still a lot to take away from this.
"I'm thankful for the opportunity to be here. I thank every single person-coaches, family and friends-who have helped me to get here. This is their silver medal, too."
Slay started the Saturday match trying to attack Leipold, without much success.
"I made an escape and thought I should have been given the point," said Slay. "But you don't always get the call. That's OK.
"Then we start the second period with the clinch. That's when things started getting ugly.
"After that I go to the mat and I'm thinking, 'OK, it's 2-0. I can still win this.' I knew he couldn't turn me. I was staying in good position. I was fighting his hands like I'm taught to do. Then they give him a third point.
"At this point it was a different match. He didn't have to do anything. He could just stand there and back away, which he did.
"Even then I had a chance to win the match. I tried to go after him and he just never opened up.
"Every time I've lost in the past it's been my fault. It was something I had done. There's nothing to be learned form that match."
Earlier in the tournament Slay had beaten the greatest active freestyler in the world, Bouvaisa Saitiev of Russia. Saitiev had an Olympic gold medal and three world championships. Leipold had a gold, three silvers and a bronze in world championships. This was Slay's first major international competition.
Slay appeared to have a difficult time at the medal ceremonies.
"I envisioned it to be one of the most amazing moments in my life up to this point," he said. "But I thought they'd be playing our national anthem. I tried to smile and enjoy the moment, but I couldn't.
"If the match had been called fairly and I lost fairly, and could say he was the better wrestler, I would have smiled."
Leipold, who is in his fourth Olympics, said he tried to make Slay feel better on the medal stand, but Slay said the German didn't do a very good job of it.
"I said, 'Brandon, you have two more Olympic Games and you can still make the gold medal,'" said Leipold. "So it's OK."
Slay said he didn't respond to Leipold.
"I'm 24 years old. Who knows what I'll be doing four years from now or eight years from now," said Slay. "Who knows what God has planned for me?"
When the wrestling and press conferences were over, Slay went to the waiting arms of his family and friends who had come from Texas to cheer him on. They were about 30 strong standing outside the exhibition center.
"We're proud of him," said his father, Doug Slay.
"It's great to come up as nothing and get silver," said his aunt, Linda Cox. He's one really neat person. This is just awesome."
"This is the greatest thrill," said his grandmother, Dorothy Slay. "Brandon and I have traveled many miles to wrestling tournaments. He always told me he was going to be in the big Olympics.
"When he was young-13, 14, 15-he would find tournaments he could go to. I put him in Cadet World tournaments, run by USA Wrestling, three times and he won medals three times."
Mrs. Slay down at her lap, at the bouquet of flowers given to medal winners, which Brandon had presented to her. "I don't suppose I'll be able to get those on the plane, will I," she asked.
As the crowd gathered around Brandon, children posed with him for photos and asked for his autograph. "He loves kids," said Mrs. Slay.
Then it was off to a USA Wrestling celebration in a nearby hotel. Off they trooped into the night, following someone with a large Texas flag.
In another controversial wrestling match Sammie Henson lost the gold medal in the 119-pound division Namig Abdullayev of Azerbaijan, 4-3.
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