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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Hall Still Grapples With Past, Loses Grip in the Final

Greco-Roman: An American fails to win gold again as Melnichenko's surprise move wins match.

July 22, 1996|MIKE KUPPER | TIMES ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

ATLANTA — Most Olympic wrestlers walk sedately into the wrestling hall, possibly conserving energy for the task ahead. It is not known how many of them converse with dead relatives.

At 4:20 Sunday afternoon, shaven-headed, goateed Dennis Hall ran into the Georgia World Congress Center for his gold-medal Greco-Roman match against Yuri Melnichenko of Kazakhstan, then bounced around on the mat apron, encouraging an already boisterous crowd to whoop it up some more.

Hall, of Stevens Point, Wis., the 1995 world champion at 57 kilograms--125.5 pounds--had already talked things over with his brother, who was killed in a car accident in 1988.

By 4:25, the crowd had quieted considerably and Hall was in a heap of trouble. Melnichenko, the very man Hall had defeated for the world title a year ago, had just hit him with a four-spot--a three-point lift and throw and a bonus point for good technique.

A four-point lead in a five-minute international championship wrestling match is, for all practical purposes, insurmountable. It was here Sunday.

In the three minutes he had left, Hall tried to make something happen but Melnichenko wisely protected his lead, winning the match, 4-1.

And Hall was left to explain to brother Dan that, although he had given it a good shot, he hadn't become the first American to win a Greco-Roman gold in a non-boycotted Olympics and would have to be satisfied with silver.

Melnichenko had foxed him, faking another move, a gut wrench, just before the lift, and Hall had bitten on the fake. But he figured that Dan, who was five years older than Dennis and had been a wrestler himself, would certainly understand that.

"It was just a regular straight-legged lift and he caught me on it," Hall said. "I had him scouted pretty well, and I didn't think he was going to get it on me, to be honest.

"I didn't defend it as well as I should have. I respected [the move], but not as much as I should have. I was afraid of the gut wrench. I knew what he was doing, but I didn't have enough time to react.

"I tried to pick up the pace [after Melnichenko's move], but I came up short and just ran out of time. I wish I would have had a little more time because he would have worn down.

"But once he scored his three, I knew he was just hanging out. He was just dancing out there. You put us out there again in half an hour and I might beat him--but it doesn't matter. I give him credit, he wrestled a good match."

It was announced later that the U.S. team had protested the match and that the protest had been denied, but Hall said he knew nothing of that.

"Someone just told me about that," he said. "I don't know if the coaches saw something I didn't or what."

And despite the disappointment, he said the Olympics had been a trip.

"It's been a great experience to compete in the Olympics here in the U.S." he said. "A lot of people got to see what a great sport this is. [The Greco-Roman style does not allow the use of legs for anything other than support and is considerably more popular in the rest of the world than it is here]. I'm not happy with the silver--my goal is to be the best in the world--but I'll take it home and treasure it the rest of my life."

Hall made it to the championship match with a 1-0 overtime victory in a morning semifinal over Sheng Zetian of China, who then went on to beat Ukrainian Ruslan Khakymov for the bronze, 4-0, in overtime. And between sessions, Hall talked to his brother.

"I know it sounds crazy, talking to a dead person, but I know it's not really him, just his spirit," Hall said. "I don't trance out; I'm not weird or anything. We just talk. When I'm at home, I go visit his grave and we talk.

"Today, he just said I should go out there and give it everything I've got. 'Go do your best,' he said. "When I talk to him later, I'll tell him I did my best, and we'll go on from here."

And down the road, Hall hopes for another mat meeting with Melnichenko.

"We've wrestled three times, and he's one up on me," he said. "And in the last two years, we've each [won] a match. It's good competition. That's what motivates us athletes."

Medalists

Greco-Roman Wrestling

220 POUNDS

Gold: Andrzej Wronski, Poland

Silver: Sergei Lishtvan, Belarus

Bronze: Mikael Ljungberg, Sweden

180 1/2 POUNDS

Gold: Hamza Yerlikaya, Turkey

Silver: Thomas Zander, Germany

Bronze: Valery Tsilent, Belarus

149 1/2 POUNDS

Gold: Ryszard Wolny, Poland

Silver: Ghani Yolouz, France

Bronze: Alexander Tretyakov, Russia

125 1/2 POUNDS

Gold: Yuri Melnichenko, Kazakhstan

Silver: Dennis Hall, United States

Bronze: Sheng Zetian, China

105 1/2 POUNDS

Gold: Sim Kwon-Ho, South Korea

Silver: Alexander Pavlov, Belarus

Bronze: Zafar Gulyov, Russia

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