|Born:||September 11, 1974|
|Residence:||Colorado Springs, CO|
|Ht: / Wt:||6'2" / 264 lbs|
|Event(s):||Greco-Roman wrestling - 120kg/264.5 lbs|
Beijing won't mark Dremiel Byers' first trip to the Olympics, but it will be the first time he competes in the Games. He was in Athens four years ago, but only as the training partner for Rulon Gardner, the 2000 Games gold medalist who beat Byers for the 2004 U.S. Olympic super heavyweight spot (120kg/264.5 lbs) and went on to win bronze. Gardner retired after his last match in Athens, opening the Olympic door for Byers. "It hurt to see him lose, but I was paying attention to the training, the focus and mental prep," Byers says. "I was paying attention to everything I saw." Since the two were competitive for so many years, Byers occasionally brings Gardner in to train with him, though Gardner insists his competitive wrestling days are behind him.
Trials and error
Heading into the 2004 Olympic Trials, Byers actually was the favorite to beat Gardner. Two months earlier, Byers beat Gardner for the 2004 national title (his third consecutive), although Gardner dislocated his wrist just days before the tournament. So Gardner entered Trials still recovering from the wrist injury and as a challenger, meaning he had to win two consecutive matches in the challenge tournament before he could face Byers in a best-of-three championship final. One loss would have eliminated him from competing in Athens. But he advanced to square off with Byers, whom he defeated in two straight tightly-contested overtime matches to advance to Athens. It was Byers' second disappointment at an Olympic Trials, as he placed fourth in 2000.
On the world stage
Though he'll be new to Olympic competition, Byers is not new to international competition. He first won the U.S. team's heavyweight spot for a world championships in 1999, and he finished sixth. Gardner beat Byers for the Worlds berth in 2001, and went on to win the world title. But he was out with a toe injury in 2002, and Byers took advantage by winning his first world title. Gardner was back for 2003 and again beat Byers for the Worlds team. In 2005, with the super heavyweight class essentially all to himself after Gardner retired, Byers easily advanced to the world championships, but fell in the second round to Kazakhstan's Georgiy Tsurtsumia, the wrestler who beat Gardner in the Athens semifinals. Byers again lost in the second round at the 2006 Worlds, but he rebounded to win bronze at the 2007 edition. Domestically, Byers has won eight U.S. Nationals titles, including the last seven.
Though Byers wasn't exactly thrilled with his bronze at the '07 Worlds, it was historic. After losing to Russia's Khassan Baroev in the semifinals, Byers faced France's Yannick Szczepaniak for a bronze medal. He was the last U.S. Greco wrestler to compete in the tournament, and a win would secure the Americans the overall Greco team title. "I'd say there was a ton of pressure on him," said U.S. Greco national team coach Steve Fraser, adding, "Dremiel did a great job of just staying calm, staying focused and just taking care of business." It was the first world team title in U.S. history. "It comes down to the heavyweight a lot of times," Byers says. "Occupational hazard, I guess. But I knew something big was about to happen and I know the team needed me, and I know I needed myself to pull through."
Byers wrestled in high school, winning a North Carolina state championship in 1993, but chose to attend North Carolina A&T on a football scholarship. That didn't last long, though, as he left after one year to join the Army. However, he wasn't out of athletics for long. The Army quickly noticed his skills and put him in the World Class Athlete Program. He says his first mission is the Olympics, and his second is to assist in recruiting. "I'm a supply sergeant, so I handle team supplies issues at the very least," Byers says. "And stay up on all soldier skills. That's important. Though it's a blessing to be in the Army's World Class Athlete Program, something could happen where it would go away and I'd have to hit the ground running. I wouldn't want to go to a unit and be a hindrance, so I make sure I'm up on my job."
When he's not wrestling or fulfilling his Army duties, Byers likes to go for a bike ride. "If it doesn't involve a motorcycle, it's not fun," he says. Byers currently owns just one bike: a Kawasaki ZX12R. He says he wrecked his Kawasaki ZX14 in May 2007. "Another guy hit me with his motorcycle," he says. Byers belongs to a motorcycle club called Street Soldiers, which is based in Denver, but he's the commander of the Colorado Springs chapter.
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