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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

This Isn't Quite What Baumgartner Wanted

Wrestling: He becomes sixth American to win a medal in four Olympics, but it's "only" a bronze.

August 03, 1996|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Bruce Baumgartner made history Friday, but not the kind he wanted.

He got redemption, also, but not the kind that prompts you to dance on tabletops.

He draped an Olympic medal around his neck too, but it wasn't the color he had picked out in the brochure.

Baumgartner, America's greatest freestyle wrestler, avenged Thursday's crushing preliminary-round loss to Russia's Andrei Shumilin by beating Shumilin in their bronze-medal super-heavyweight rematch, winning a controversial 1-1 referee's decision at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Baumgartner trailed with 20 seconds remaining in overtime when he took down Shumilin with his trademark "outside single-leg."

After the judges raised his hand, Baumgartner accepted his bronze medal in the 286-pound class with grace and dignity.

But he did not accept it happily.

"Losing stinks," he said.

Baumgartner didn't seem to care much that his medal was historic. With it, he became the sixth American to win medals in four Olympics. With it, he claimed his 13th international medal, Olympic and world championship, surpassing the record he previously shared with former Soviet legend Alexander Medved.

Baumgartner shrugged.

"Well, it took me a lifetime of wrestling to get it," he said. "Sure, I'm proud of it. But my goal was not to win a 13th medal. My goal was to come and win the Olympics. I didn't attain my goal."

He failed because of his early-round loss to Shumilin, a defeat that wife Linda said left him "crushed, devastated."

Yet, less than 24 hours later, Baumgartner again had to stare down Shumilin, who had also dropped into the losers' bracket.

Baumgartner said he didn't approach the rematch different from the way he had his 6-1 defeat a day before.

"I did the same strategy," he said. "I just didn't fall down on my butt and get four points against me."

Baumgartner wrestled a cautious rematch, hoping he could push it into overtime and then win with a last-minute takedown. But Shumilin beat Baumgartner to the draw, scoring 21 seconds into the three-minute overtime period.

Baumgartner appeared beaten until his medal-saving takedown--"Probably the move I'm most noted for," he said, "a basic, run-of-the-mill technique"--and then left it for the judges to decide.

The bronze is Baumgartner's fourth Olympic medal, to go with golds in 1984 and 1992, and a silver in 1988. He owns eight world championship medals, three of them representing world titles.

"But that's not what I wrestle for," he said.

The medals have not earned him anything close to a fortune. He may be the only four-time Olympic medalist without an agent.

Wrestling is a passion, not a payoff.

"I enjoy the combat," he said.

Linda says her husband never discusses his accomplishments.

"It doesn't mean diddily-squat," she said.

Linda is in charge of knowing that Bruce hasn't lost to another American since 1981, or that Bruce hasn't lost more than two matches in a calendar year since 1983.

His medals?

"Three of them are in a safe-deposit box," he said. "All the medals before 1992 are at the U.S. Wrestling Hall of Fame, except for the two that they lost and promise they'll find. The others are probably hidden where the kids won't play with them."

Baumgartner, 35, deferred any talk of retirement. In wrestling, the custom after the last match of your career is to remove your shoes and leave them on the mat.

Baumgartner's shoes, for now, are still laced.

"I have not made any decision past today," he said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

MEDALISTS / Wrestling

114.5 pounds

GOLD: Valentin Jordanov, Bulgaria

SILVER: Namik Abdullaev, Azerbaijan

BRONZE: Maulen Mamirov, Kazakstan

*

136.5 pounds

GOLD: Tom Brands, United States

SILVER: Jang Jae-sung, South Korea

BRONZE: Elbrus Tedeev, Ukraine

*

163 pounds

GOLD: Bouvaisa Satiev, Russia

SILVER: Park Jang-soon, South Korea

BRONZE: Takuya Ota, Japan

*

198 pounds

GOLD: Rasul Khadem, Iran

SILVER: Makharbek Khadartsev, Russia

BRONZE: Eldari Kurtanidze, Georgia

*

Super Heavyweight

GOLD: Mahmut Demir, Turkey

SILVER: Alexei Medvedev, Belarus

BRONZE: Bruce Baumgartner, United States

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