Andy Hamilton "¢ Iowa City Press-Citizen "¢ May 2, 2009
Randy Lewis has talked for years about returning to competition in the sport that made him an Olympic champion.
He figures he might as well do it while he's still young.
"I'll be 50 soon, "the former Iowa wrestling great said Friday afternoon. "But I feel like I'm only 47 and a half."
Lewis hasn't wrestled in a competitive setting since the 1992 Olympic Trials. He's 30 years removed from winning his first NCAA title with the Hawkeyes. He'll turn 50 in June and celebrate the 25th anniversary of winning Olympic gold in August.
But first he plans to compete May 16 in Waterloo at the Northern Plains Regional, a freestyle qualifying tournament for the World Team Trials.
"He's been talking about coming back and wrestling since the day he retired, "Iowa coach Tom Brands said. "This isn't the first time, and it's not going to be the last."
But Lewis is serious now. He's thought this through. He has myriad reasons for getting back on the mat -- the enjoyment he used to derive from competition, his quest to get down to 163 pounds and shed a few inches from his waistline are a couple -- and the lyrics of a Toby Keith tune are speaking to his heart.
I used to be hell on wheels back when I was a younger man. Now my body says, "You can't do this boy. "But my pride says, "Oh yes you can."
I ain't as good as I once was. That's just the cold hard truth. I still throw a few back, talk a little smack, when I'm feelin' bulletproof. So don't double-dog dare me now. 'Cause I'd have to call your bluff.
I ain't as good as I once was. But I'm as good once as I ever was.
"I'm like that song, "Lewis said. "I'm not as good as I once was. But I'm as good once as I ever was."
In his prime, Lewis was one of Iowa's all-time greats. He was a two-time NCAA champion, three-time national finalist and four-time All-American with the Hawkeyes. He made the Olympic team for the first time in 1980 at 21. He became a fan favorite with his high-flying style that produced 104 points in seven matches on his way to Olympic gold in 1984 and he frustrated opponents who tried attacking his legs, which earned the monikers "the impossible leg "and "the nearly impossible leg."
"The impossible leg is still pretty darn hard to take down until I get real tired, "Lewis said. "And the nearly impossible leg I don't let them get to."
Adds former U.S. World Team coach Mike Duroe: "If you watch him on the mat, obviously he can still wrestle. He was gifted 20 years ago, and he still has those gifts and talents. But when you're not training and you're not doing those things in competition, you get rusty. But I think the new rules make it possible for a guy to come back after not competing for a while."
Lewis wants to prove that. He said he wouldn't be contemplating a comeback if the freestyle rules were the same as they were in 1980 when matches lasted nine minutes. But Lewis said the element of conditioning largely has been removed from the sport with two-minute periods in a best-of-three format, and he thinks the current rules play to his favor.
"I still have very special skills in my opinion, "Lewis said. "Everybody who has seen me wrestle in the room would agree. In a short time, I'm going to be very tough to beat. The freestyle rules right now, they've made the matches very short. If I come out and score six points in 30 seconds or throw a guy twice, that period is over and I'm not going to get very tired in 30 seconds. But if I get in a two-minute scramble in the first period and have a 5-4 match with somebody and the same thing happens in the second period and I split them, I'm going to be in trouble in the third period."
Lewis isn't taking a normal approach to competition. He said he won't wrestle hard during the next two weeks to make sure he doesn't sustain an injury that could prevent him from following through on his promise to compete in Waterloo.
"He's a competitor, "Brands said. "He gets up for competition. Whether you're prepared or not, he's a gamer. Some guys have to go in there and they have to train and really prepare and that's part of their confidence. Randy Lewis has an innate confidence about him, and that's probably the difference between him and a lot of guys."
The differences between Lewis and the other wrestlers in his bracket will be more transparent in Waterloo. He said he's heard the field will include two-time NCAA runner-up Mike Poeta, a senior at Illinois who was born two years after Lewis won Olympic gold.
Part of this is about curiosity for Lewis, who said he'd like the opportunity to wrestle Poeta. Part of this is about representing a generation of wrestling legends.
"There are other guys out there who under today's rules would be competitive, and I'm not talking about making a World Team competitive, "Lewis said. "But they'd give the No. 1, 2 and 3 guys a good go for one match and they'd beat a lot of the guys who are fifth, sixth and seventh on the ladder or lower down. But none of those guys are as crazy as me to go out and do it. I'm kind of doing this for all us old men. I can guarantee you Gable in his 40s could kick everybody's (butt) still.
"People don't believe it, but I was there. I was 31 and I beat the World champ and (Dan) Gable was 41 and he was still smoking me easy. I've watched Tom and Terry Brands be retired for eight years and believe me, they would still be very, very, very hard to beat. All three of those guys kept themselves in better shape than I have, but this really isn't about shape now in two-minute matches."