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Gardner wins Team Trials

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INDIANAPOLIS — Rulon Gardner is back.

Gardner reclaimed his status Sunday night as America's top super heavyweight by defeating 2002 world champion Dremiel Byers twice in less than 60 minutes to win the U.S. World Team Trials title, six weeks after finishing third at nationals.

His second win over Byers, in a 2-2 match determined by criteria decision, gave Gardner a chance to compete against the world's best wrestlers for the third time since the 2000 Olympics. He will represent the United States at October's World Championships in Creteil, France.

For Gardner, his second championship in this tournament demonstrated how far he had come since having the middle toe on his right foot amputated in February 2002.

"I didn't think I'd be here five minutes ago," Gardner said. "To be where I'm at now . . . "

Gardner didn't have to finish his thought. He just shook his head.

In three days, Gardner re-established himself as one of the world's premier super heavyweights.

After losing to Byers 3-2 in the first match of the best-of-three championship round, Gardner rallied for three points and a 3-2 overtime win in the second match.

In the third match, Gardner was his usual self — pushing, shoving and using his brute strength to wear down his opponent.

"That's his game. He'll wear anyone in the world down like that," Byers said. "He's the best in that style of wrestling."

The two fought like boxers. In eight rounds Sunday, including two overtime periods, they danced and countered each other at every opportunity.

But with more leverage and better balance than he had at last month's nationals, Gardner was much more competitive.

About 45 minutes after their second match ended, the two re-emerged to a loud ovation and, after a scoreless first period, Byers finally broke through with a one-point takedown.

Thirty-six seconds later, Gardner received a point when the weary Byers was called for stalling. Gardner took a 2-1 lead with 25 seconds left in regulation, but international rules require winners to score three points or go to overtime.

Byers used his second chance to tie the score with another takedown 18 seconds into overtime. Nobody scored again.

After Gardner was announced the winner, the two hugged. Byers said he expected Gardner to extend the United States' record of three straight world titles.

"I needed more, I wanted more, I expected more," Byers said. "I felt I let myself down."

T.C. Dantzler also earned his first World Team berth by defeating national champion Keith Sieracki by criteria decision. The score was 1-1 but Dantzler won because he had fewer cautions.

When the decision was announced, Dantzler covered his eyes before placing his hands on the mat, reflecting on the win he said was needed so he could feed his family well after quitting a job Monday. Sieracki jogged to the scorer's table and began screaming at the officials.

When he finally left the mat, Sieracki raced around the platform and continued screaming at officials until he was escorted out by security. Then he punched a sign and returned during the 30-second break of the Gardner-Byers match to continue chastising the officials.

Sieracki was not available for comment.

"When he wins, he's happy. When he loses, he always complains about something," Dantzler said.

Dantzler could well have been the one complaining after losing the second match to Sieracki 3-2 in overtime. With 1:41 left in the second period, Dantzler turned his back after the official blew his whistle to signal a restart.

Sieracki then ran toward Dantzler, put his head down and pushed him off the stage. Dantzler said his shoulder landed on a coffee mug and Sieracki was penalized a point.

"He tackled me in the back," Dantzler said. "I've never had that happen in a match. Sometimes wrestlers get emotional, and I know that's not in his character."

Utah native Cael Sanderson of Heber, who went 159-0 at Iowa State, won his third straight title at 185 pounds in men's freestyle by defeating Lee Fullhart for the second year in a row. Sanderson won 7-2 and 3-0.

The biggest upset belonged to Jamill Kelly, at 145 1/2 pounds in freestyle. Kelly said he had never finished higher than fourth in his high school state finals but defeated national champ Chris Bono 4-2 in overtime and 7-3 to earn a spot in September's freestyle World Championships in New York.

Toccara Montgomery rallied twice Sunday to earn her third straight title in the tournament. She trailed Samantha Lang 6-0 in the second match before scoring five points in the final 35 seconds to win 8-5.