Sara McMann came through even as the rest of her supposedly strong team was stumbling, leaving her as the Americans' only chance for an Olympic
women's wrestling gold medal.
McMann bounced back from a meaningless pool match loss to pin Greece's Stavroula Zygouri in 50 seconds of their 138½-pound (63kg) semifinal on
Monday. McMann meets Japanese world champion Kaori Icho for the gold later Monday.
McMann lost to Icho 4-3 in an overtime match lasting 8 minutes, 20 seconds in last year's world championship finals. Icho is joined in the finals by
her sister, Chiharu, who meets Ukraine's dominant Irina Merleni at 105½ pounds (48kg).
Merleni took out the United States' only other semifinalist, Patricia Miranda, 9-0, by taking an early 4-0 lead and never letting Miranda get into the
McMann, a 23-year-old who grew up in a wrestling family, made sure she never got in trouble. As she and Zygouri fought for control near the edge of
the mat, McMann worked a double-leg takedown that put Zygouri on her back. The pin came almost before the pro-Greek crowd could establish a home-mat
advantage for Zygouri.
"She's really strong, so I'm really happy to get out of there,'' McMann said. "We mimic (in practice) every kind of wrestler, and we have a game plan
for each style and stance.''
Miranda's loss to Merleni was her second in a year, after falling 5-4 in last year's world finals. Miranda, who wrestled her way into Stanford
University's men's lineup as a senior, was trying to put Merleni in a headlock when Merleni reversed the hold and took her to the back for a 4-0 lead
in less than 30 seconds. It would get no closer.
Miranda, pushing hard to come back, was attempting to work a tilt early in the second period when the faster and technically smoother Merleni again
reversed her and turned her for a three-point, making it 9-0. In her four Olympics matches so far, Merleni has won three decisions by a combined score
of 30-0 and pinned a fourth opponent.
Merleni has been as hard for her opponents to figure out as it is to spell her name. FILA, the sport's world governing body, translates her name into
Melnik. USA Wrestling officials were told she spells it Merlini; Olympic draw sheets list her as Merleni.
Regardless, she spelled trouble for Miranda, who now heads off to Yale Law School with no better than a bronze. Miranda was to wrestle Angelique
Berthenet of France later Monday for the bronze; Berthenet lost 12-1 to Chiharu Icho.
"I'm still really confused about a lot of things, but I know one thing, I stepped out on the mat and gave it everything,'' said Miranda, 25, of
Japan, the sport's dominant nation, has three finalists but its best wrestler, five-time world champion Kyoko Hamaguchi, was stunned 6-4 by Wang Xu of
China at 158½ pounds (72kg). Hamaguchi was working a move when Wang, who was in the passive position, was awarded two points.
There was no immediate word on why the apparent incorrect scoring call was not reversed by video review, which is frequently used to correct errors
Japan's large cheering section reacted with boos and disbelief and Greek police spent several minutes restraining Hamaguchi's angry father, former pro
wrestler Heigo "The Animal'' Hamaguchi, when he appeared ready to jump out of the stands.
Both U.S. wrestlers who didn't win their pools Sunday also lost in the consolation round. Tela O'Donnell, of Homer, Alaska, was beaten 10-7 by Mabel
Fonseca of Puerto Rico at 121 pounds (63kg) -- there goes Puerto Rico beating the USA again -- to finish with a 1-2 record.
Toccara Montgomery, who with Miranda was given the USA's best chance of winning a gold in Athens, lost 8-3 to Canada's Christine Nordhagen at 158½
pounds (72kg). Montgomery, who drew Hamaguchi in the opening match of her pool, also finished 1-2.