Lowney qualifies for Olympics; others fall short

Numerous former Golden Gopher wrestlers competed at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials in Indianapolis over the weekend. Garrett Lowney won his weight class, while Tim Hartung, Jared Lawrence and Brandon Paulson came up just short. Goldensports.net was the only local media that exclusively covers Gophers sports at the event. Read more to find out about how things broke down.

Indianapolis – Former Minnesota Gophers wrestler Garrett Lowney qualified for the Olympics by winning his weight class at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials at the RCA Dome Sunday.

Meanwhile, former Gopher stars Brandon Paulson, Jared Lawrence and Tim Hartung came up short in their quest to represent the United States at the 2004 Olympic games in Athens, Greece.

The Trials took place Friday through Sunday, with the best freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestlers in the United States competing to advance to the Olympics. The U.S. Olympics Women's Wrestling team was also determined. For the first time ever, Olympic freestyle wrestling will be an Olympic sport.

Lowney, from Freedom, Wisc., and with by far the most lively and spirited fan base of all competitors at the tournament, earned two straight victories over U.S. National Champion Justin Ruiz, including a 2-0 decision in the Greco-Roman finals at 96kg to clinch a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. Lowney was a two-time All-American heavyweight for the Golden Gophers from 2001-02. Lowney returns to the Olympics after a tough battle from injury as well, suffering a neck injury a year ago that forced him to miss the World Championships and threatened his career.

Several other Golden Gophers fell just shy of qualifying for the Olympics, including 1996 Silver medalist Brandon Paulson. Taking on his former mentor, Dennis Hall, in the Greco-Roman finals at 55kg, Paulson was defeated 4-3 in three overtimes in the second-longest match in recent U.S. Olympic trials history. Paulson was an All-American for Minnesota in 1998.

In the finals in freestyle, Tim Hartung struggled with an elbow injury and was defeated twice by U.S. National Champion Daniel Cormier at 96kg. Hartung was a two-time NCAA Champion for the Golden Gophers in 1998-99.

Jared Lawrence put together a remarkable run to the finals at 66kg. Against U.S. National Champion Jamill Kelly, Lawrence evened the series with a 2-1 decision. In the final match, though, Kelly held on for a 3-1 victory to earn a trip to Athens. Lawrence was a four-time All-American for the Golden Gophers from 2000-03 and won an NCAA title in 2002 at 149 pounds.

The biggest story from Sunday's finals of the 2004 United States Olympics Wrestling Team Trials was Dennis Hall's victory over Brandon Paulson in the 55 kg finals. Hall defeated Paulson 4-3 in overtime in a match that lasted 16 minutes, 54 seconds. Hall won the first match 3-2 in overtime, and Paulson won the second match 3-1 before the draining final match that had the crowd of 9,478 cheering for both wrestlers, clapping and saying that it was too bad someone had to lose.

Even more intriguing is the fact that Hall and Paulson are longtime workout partners and close friends. Paulson advanced to the 1996 Olympics where he won a silver medal at 55kg, while Hall won a Silver medal the same year, but at 60 kg.

Paulson led 2-0 late in the third match before Hall earned a three-point move to go ahead 3-2 with 36 seconds remaining. Paulson then earned one a point for an escape with 28 seconds remaining to tie the match 3-3 and eventually sending it into sudden victory overtime. The two locked and battled for a long, long time, before Hall earned one point on the edge of the mat for the win.

"It seemed like an hour, man," Hall, of Plover, Wisconsin said of the classic match, considered by those in attendance to be the most intense, dramatic match of the tournament. Hall has two children and his youngest son is named Brandon, after Brandon Paulson.

"It was kind of an epic battle between two giants," said Paulson.

Paulson kissed the mat as he left, and broke down in tears as he walked off the mat. At 30 he is retiring, but still feels he is among the best in the world.

"I'm the best in the world, in my mind, and he beat me today," Paulson said.

Daniel Cormier may have been the most impressive wrestler Sunday. Cormier defeated Hartung in the 96 kg freestyle final, pinning Hartung at 4:47 in the first match and winning 7-0 in the second match. Hartung was still feeling the effects of an elbow injury suffered in the first match, but Cormier has had Hartung's number, and has now won five of the last six matches against the former two-time University of Minnesota national champion.

"The matches were a lot closer than they looked," said Cormier. "Tim's a tough guy who wanted to represent the United States just as bad as I did. I don't know how much his elbow hurt him or if he would even say it affected him because he was wrestling hard and didn't give up."

Lawrence advanced to the finals with impressive victories, including a big win over nemesis Eric Larkin, who defeated Lawrence in the 2003 NCAA national finals when Larkin was at Arizona State.

Larkin defeated Lawrence the last three times the two faced each other in championship competition, including at Cadet Nationals, the National High School Championships, and the NCAA finals.

Lawrence fought off numerous scoring attempts late in the match and in overtime to hold off Larkin. While Lawrence admits he has worked hard on his defense, it was his competitive nature that took over.

"At the end that was all heart, just competing," said Lawrence.

Like Kelly last year at the World Team Trials, Lawrence emerged in this tournament out of a tough field. Kelly came out of nowhere last year to win the Trials, and now Lawrence is doing something similar.

"Jamill was scoring big points last year when he was doing that," said Lawrence. "I'm not winning that way, but in a sense I do feel like I am a little like Jamill."

Former Gopher Damion, a two-time NCAA champion, lost both matches at freestyle 96 kg, while former Gopher All-American Ryan Lewis finished fourth in his freestyle challenge tournament at 60 kg. Cole Konrad, who will be a sophomore at Minnesota next year, finished fifth in his 120 kg Greco-Roman weight class.

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