Mary Kelly didn't come to the U.S. Olympic wrestling trials expecting to lose. The way she figures it, everyone goes home a winner. Especially women's wrestling.
"This weekend is for all those girls who are getting interested in wrestling," said Kelly, a member of the New York Athletic Club. "This will definitely open people's eyes up to women's wrestling."
Kelly, 20, finished third in the 105.5-pound weight class during Saturday's consolation round at the RCA Dome. She's one of 72 women in Indianapolis this weekend competing to the make the inaugural U.S. women's wrestling team that will compete in Athens this summer.
"The possibilities this opens up for girls is incredible," said Kelly, the third-ranked U.S. wrestler in her weight class. "I never thought we'd get this chance as a sport so to be here on a national stage is pretty incredible."
Women's wrestling took the center stage during the second day of the trials. Two upsets ruled the morning round when No. 2 seed Sally Roberts lost a 4-2 decision to Stephanie Shaw at 138.75 pounds. Roberts was expected to battle Washington native Sally McMann in Sunday's finals.
"All of us our very familiar with each other so whoever reaches the final will be tough," said McCann, who earned a bye into Sunday's championship round. "This is a great wrestling event and it will take a great effort for me to advance."
The other upset was at 158.5 pounds, where Indiana native Katie Downing lost a 5-1 decision to Kristie Marano in the second round. Marano was forced to move up a weight class after failing to make weight and beat Downing, the No. 2 seed in the weight class, in a thrilling match.
"I was just trying to get some points on the board," Marano said. "I know these girls and they know me so it's hard to get points on the board."
Marano, a New York native, will battle Ohio's Toccara Washington in Sunday's finals, which are a best-of-three format with the winner going on to represent the United States in Athens.
"I feel really good about how I'm wrestling," Marano said. "It's all coming back to me."
Olympic champion Rulon Gardner is hoping to advance to his second straight Olympic Games. Gardner was the wrestling star of the 2000 Sydney Games and is one of the most recognized and respected wrestlers in the world.
"It is different," Gardner said of being the defending gold medalist at 264.5 pounds. "I have 32 years of wisdom and moves, and if I don't use them I may never use them."
Gardner has enjoyed his fame since Sydney, but he knows this time the circumstances are not the same.
"What happened [in Sydney] may never happen again, just because it was a one-time thing -- beating a 13-time champion [Alexander Karelin]," he said. "If it happens this time it will be more like a wrestler coming back, overcoming adversity."
Gardner lost a toe to frostbite in a February 2002 accident.
"I feel 100 percent, but it's weird," he said of being back on the national stage. "I walked in here and questioned should I cross this street or not, because weird things can happen."
Training in NYC
The U.S. Olympic team that comes out of the RCA Dome on Sunday will train June 21-28 in a pre-Olympic training camp in New York City.
"It is the beginning of our training for the Olympics," U.S. National men's coach Terry Steiner said. "People will be watching our training, which will help build their excitement. This will help them understand the importance of what we are doing."