If the United States wrestling team does not get a chance to meet the Soviet Union squad for the Goodwill Games gold medal, no one will blame Tom Press.
Press is a 30-year-old investment banker from Chicago. He retired from Greco-Roman wrestling almost two years ago. He is in Moscow on a junket, doing some videotaping for the U.S. wrestling team.
Tonight, Press wrestled in the Goodwill Games. He lost. But that wasn't the point.
"It took a lot of bravery and courage for him to go out and try to help the American team that way," U.S. Coach Dan Gable said. "He took a shot at it. He didn't win, but he certainly didn't let anybody down."
Press went from cameraman to competitor in a period of just more than two hours. Early this afternoon, a friend of his, Jeff Callard, who is also here as a tourist, told him that Mark Schultz, the 1984 Olympic champion in the 180.5-pound weight class, was too sick to meet a wrestler from Turkey in his scheduled match.
Schultz had lost his match Friday against a Bulgarian, disqualified for stalling. Like many of the wrestlers on this team, he was not in top shape. This morning, Schultz told Gable he was sick and didn't think he could wrestle.
"I told him to go back to his room, get into bed, get some rest and see how he felt just before it was time to weigh in," Gable said. "That's the last I heard from him. His brother Dave told me later that Mark was too sick to wrestle. Then, two hours before the match, Tom Press showed up and told me he wanted to wrestle."
It was not a simple thing. Press weighed a little more than 190 pounds when he woke up this morning. He had two hours to lose 10 pounds. "I just borrowed someone's rubber suit, put it on and went out and ran," he said. "I think I lost just about 11 pounds."
Having made weight and having convinced Gable to give him a chance, Press still was a long way from wrestling. A Soviet official told the Americans no substitution could be made for Schultz, particularly since Press wasn't on the competitors list. The Americans took the case to international wrestling officials. They overruled the official. Press could wrestle.
But could he wrestle? "I hadn't been in any competition since the end of 1984 and I hadn't freestyle-wrestled since 1981," he said. "But I thought I would give it a shot."
In Greco-Roman wrestling, which is what Press is accustomed to, competitors are not allowed to use holds beneath the waist, so, in trying to wrestle freestyle, where such holds are allowed, Press immediately had a problem. "I got out there and the first thing the guy did was get my legs tangled up," he said. "I felt really awkward out there. I'm embarrassed. I feel like I got my butt kicked for nothing."
The rest of the American team didn't feel that way. Even though Press was whipped, 13-0, in less than three minutes by Nedjoni Genchalp, no one was complaining. "You gave it a shot," Dave Schultz said. "It was good. You never know. Don't feel down."
Press is a stocky, balding man with an easy smile. He was a wrestler at the University of Minnesota and continued to compete in the sport until he was 28. His last competition was in the 1984 World Cup. His highest finish in an international meet was fourth in the 1981 World University Games.
"I feel like I let the team down," Press said today. "I really thought I could wrestle better than that. But I never had a chance. I'm not sure I'd even call what I did wrestling. I know the other guys appreciated the fact that I lost the weight and I did the best I could. But I still hate losing."
If Schultz still is sick Sunday, Press may wrestle again. The U.S. team beat Turkey, 8-2, tonight, but, if Bulgaria, which tied the Americans, 5-5, Friday, beats Turkey Sunday morning by more than 8-2, it will wrestle the Soviets Sunday night for the gold medal. The U.S. would face Japan or Mongolia for the bronze.
"I'll be disappointed if we don't get a shot at the Soviets, but, to tell the truth, I don't think we're ready for them," Gable said. "We didn't have much of a training camp at all. This is a good team, but we would have done better with some serious training -- as opposed to none."
Although three of the seven U.S. gold medalists from the 1984 Olympic team (Schultz, Schultz and Bruce Baumgartner) are on this team, no one is in top shape because the world championships are not until October.
Press had no training. His only wish when the match was over was that no one had recorded his effort. "I hope no one taped that," he said. "If it ever got back to Chicago, I'd never hear the end of it at Salomon Brothers."
When he gets home, with or without videotape, and has a chance to think about what he did tonight, Press will feel differently. He came to the Soviet Union as a tourist and ending up wrestling for his country.
"I'd do it again in a second if I had the chance," Press said. "I'd do it again in a second. I'll do it again tomorrow if they ask me.
"I went out there with nothing to lose." He smiled. "Except my pride."
The U.S. women's volleyball team, which began the week horribly, ended it on a high note today when it beat Japan, 3-0, to win the bronze medal. The American women started competition here by losing to North Korea and Japan before coming back to beat Czechoslovakia. They lost a tough match to the Soviet Union Friday before reversing their earlier decision with Japan today.