• Photo Showcase: U.S. Wrestling Trials
• Results: Midlanders at the U.S. Wrestling Trials Sunday
• Story: Former Iowa college stars come up short at Trials
• Notes: Lingering injury costs former Mav
* * *
IOWA CITY, Iowa — IOWA CITY — Away from the crowd and cameras, Tervel Dlagnev wrapped Les Sigman in a brief hug in the tunnels of Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It was a reminder of the friendship and respect between longtime rivals during the biggest achievement of Dlagnev's career.
The former University of Nebraska at Kearney standout shut down his UNO counterpart in the finals 3-0, 4-0 and 1-0, 2-0 Sunday night for the best-of-three matches victory at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials. With the win comes membership on this year's U.S. Olympic Team and a shot at competing at 120 kilograms (264.5 pounds) in freestyle at the London Games in August.
But Dlagnev went out of his way to acknowledge Sigman, who beat a younger, lighter and less experienced version of himself in all nine of their college matches. The two-time NCAA Division II champion at UNK believes Sunday's result evens their head-to-head freestyle record at 5-5.
“We've wrestled almost 20 times in referee competition,” Dlagnev said. “We've probably wrestled 80 times in simulations and practice. A lot of matches.”
But rarely during those bouts did Dlagnev stifle his foe so completely. He collected three late points in the first period of their first finals match and netted five in the last 15 seconds of the next period. In the finale, he edged Sigman by a point in the tiebreaker — known as a clinch — in a random draw that granted him the advantage of starting by grabbing Sigman's leg.
Sigman, who topped Dlagnev in the finals at the 2010 World Team Trials in Council Bluffs, finished out a tournament in which he felt healthy but never fully in sync.
“We know each other so well,” Sigman said. “And at this level, if you have a bad day you're out. I didn't have a very good day today.”
Dlagnev cruised through the Challenge Tournament during the morning session, winning two matches in straight periods. Sigman defeated higher-seeded — and crowd favorite — Steve Mocco from Iowa 3-0, 1-2, 1-0 to reach the brink of an Olympic bid.
But the evening went the way of the Bulgaria-born big man who grew up in Texas and didn't play a sport of any kind until he was a high school sophomore. He attracted plenty of supporters, including family and UNK coach Marc Bauer, who drove a full 30-passenger bus just to be heard in the corner of a near-sellout evening crowd of 13,712.
“This was as real as the Trials have felt,” Dlagnev said. “It wasn't like a dreamy haze. The Olympic team was tangible; it was real every match, every second and I give that all to God.”
Overall, nine Olympic spots were awarded Sunday after nine were set Saturday. The teams are men's and women's freestyle as well as Greco-Roman.
Dlagnev made the World Team in 2009 and won a bronze medal at the international event. But the 26-year-old said this victory validates even more the long hours he put in.
Sigman, 30, was finally healthy after entering the 2008 Olympic Trials at far less than 100 percent and missing out on multiple World Team Trials with various injuries in recent years. The four-time national champ at UNO (2003 to ‘06) has said he is leaning toward retiring after this Olympic cycle, but said Sunday that he will take some time before making a decision.
“It's disappointing when you don't perform like you've been training, especially this far along in my career. But I have great coaches and friends and a lot to be thankful for.”