SCRAMBLING AT the edge of the mat last Saturday night, Cael Sanderson swiftly grabbed Moon Eui Jae around the legs and rag-dolled the 185-pound South Korean over his head. The blur of armpits and elbows would be worth two points and, about a minute and a half later, an Olympic freestyle championship. The self-effacing Sanderson, who won all five of his matches in Athens, later would say the maneuver had no name and would refer to it as lucky. But the creativity and strength of the move merit a formal designation. A Full Moon, perhaps?
The gold medal was around Sanderson's thickly corded neck, the albatross off it. His nonpareil 159-0 record at Iowa State from 1998 through 2002 had created a burden of expectations internationally, one that weighed on Sanderson despite a second-place finish last year in his first world freestyle championships. "The styles of wrestling are so different--I think this gold medal allows him to start over," said Sanderson's wife, Kelly, after a quick celebration with her husband. (Cael went nuts. He had the double cheeseburger.)
The U.S. freestyle team had won only two silvers at the 2003 worlds and was hoping to make amends in Athens. Things looked good when razor-edged 121-pounder Stephen Abas earned his first medal in major international competition, a silver, and 145.5-pounder Jamill Kelly, who had never won a high school state championship or an NCAA title, also won a surprising silver. "We all had a lot to prove coming off last year, so I guess people thought we came out of nowhere," Kelly said. "But we're still one of the wrestling powerhouses in the world, and we're still trying to improve."
But Sanderson's flipping Moon was beyond amelioration. It was a priceless example of wrestling art. --Michael Farber