O'Donnell an Olympian

Posted: Monday, May 24, 2004

Next stop: Athens.

Homer's Tela O'Donnell, who wrestles for the Dave Schultz Wrestling Club in Colorado Springs, Colorado, pinned reigning 55-kilogram U.S. freestyle National Champion Tina George twice Sunday to win the U.S. Olympic Trials in Indianapolis.

The 21-year-old Nikiski High School graduate defeated George after fighting her way through the challenge bracket over the weekend. O'Donnell was forced into the challenge bracket after losing to George at Nationals in April.

O'Donnell made sure a repeat of that performance wasn't going to happen Sunday. Leading 4-3 in the first of their best-of-three match, O'Donnell got things off to a good start with a pin.

In the second match, George appeared to be in control of things, leading 6-2 in the second round. However, O'Donnell surprised the U.S. champion with a power half Nelson, converting the move into a pin at the 4:12 mark of the match.

With the win, O'Donnell secured a spot on the 2004 U.S. Summer Olympic Team, which will compete in Greece in July.

O'Donnell grew up in Homer and attended Nikiski High School during her senior year, where she wrestled as a 119-pounder. In 2000, she placed 6th at the state wrestling tournament, joining Skyview's Melinda Hutchison as the first female wrestlers in the nation to place in a high school state tournament.

In other qualifying action Sunday, reigning Olympic champion Rulon Gardner won a pair of tight 2-1 overtime decisions over top-seeded Dremiel Byers to gain the return trip to the Olympics that once seemed a long shot.

''I told myself, 'I'm not putting those shoes out there today,' " said Gardner, the 2000 Greco-Roman super heavyweight gold medalist at the Sydney Games. ''I have more matches to wrestle.''

Like O'Donnell, Gardner also wrestled his way up through the challenge tournament.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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