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On a day when U.S. wrestlers paint a masterpiece, Jones finishes on mat


BARCELONA, Spain -- U.S. wrestling people were calling it the greatest day ever in the Olympics for American wrestlers.

But you'd never have known it, not by the tears spilling out of a grown man's eyes, and the long, sorrowful face of a young man from Bloomsburg, Pa.

U.S. freestyle wrestlers had just gone 17-2 for the day, but in their one gold-medal match -- in the 114.5-pound class -- American Zeke Jones was taken to school by Li Hak Son, a fast-starting North Korean.

It was a downbeat finish to a day in which Americans won matches virtually every 30 minutes, including 286-pounder Bruce Baumgartner, who became the first American to win wrestling medals in three Olympic Games.

But in the end, a pale, lean young man with cauliflower ears was left to explain the difference between gold and silver.

"Well, I was No. 1 in the world last year," Jones said, referring to the world championship he won in Varna, Bulgaria. "Now I'm No. 2. I'm going in the wrong direction."

He looked at the silver disk hanging from his neck, and added: "But now that I've been in an Olympics, the dream I've had for 20 years to win an Olympic gold medal is not a dream anymore. Now, it's a realistic goal. I'll only be 30 at Atlanta."

Jones, the assistant wrestling coach at Bloomsburg (Pa.) University, was battling an inflamed, infected left elbow. And he was blown out of his gold-medal match with Li in the first 30 seconds. The final was 8-1, but it was 3-0 after 30 seconds, 5-0 with two minutes left and 7-1 with 33 seconds left.

Li was quicker and faster, seemed much stronger and had a great game plan, U.S. coach Bobby Douglas said.

"Zeke's elbow is the size of an orange," Douglas said. "He showed me a lot tonight. He's got a big-time infection."

Douglas knows the pain of coming so close to gold and getting silver. He won a silver medal at a world championships two decades ago. He stopped talking about Jones in mid-sentence in the interview room, and the tears rolled out of his eyes.

"Zeke's problem was the elbow and the fact he had a great opponent who had a great match plan. But it's still a great day. I don't know of a better day the U.S. has ever had in wrestling in the Olympics."

Jones, who came out of the match with a mouse under his right eye, said he hurt his elbow while working out the day before the competition began.

"I don't know what happened; I was on the mat with someone and the elbow just started hurting," he said. "It's been getting bigger every day. I have about 70 percent range of motion right now. And I've been running a fever.

"But that's not an excuse. I was ready for this match -- or, I thought I was. You don't think of pain when you're competing.

Jones was losing five seconds into the match when Li scored with a single-leg takedown, then made it 3-0 when he gut-wrenched Jones 10 seconds later.

Baumgartner assured himself of at least a silver when he won three matches yesterday, the last one a 7-0 win over world champion Andreas Schroder of Germany.

"I placed seventh in the worlds last year and not many people gave me much of a chance here," said Baumgartner, 31, a gold medalist in 1984 and a silver medalist in 1988.

"But I've beaten two former world champions here, 7-0 and 3-0, so I'm happy with the way things are going. But the worst is not over. I hope I don't get the Iranian in the final -- I'm 0-and-2 against him."

He referred to Ali Reza Soleyman, who meets Canadian Jeff Thue this morning. Baumgartner gets the winner tonight for the gold medal.

Also staying on track for a possible shot at gold medals were defending Olympic champions John Smith (136 1/2 pounds) and Kenny Monday (163), both of Stillwater, Okla.; Kendall Cross (125 1/2 ), also of Stillwater; world champion Kevin Jackson (180 1/2 ), of Ames, Iowa; and Tim Vanni (105 1/2 ), of Phoenix. All are unbeaten.

Townsend Saunders of Phoenix finished seventh at 149.5 pounds.

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