SAN ANTONIO — With the 2012 London Games looming over the horizon, U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program Greco-Roman heavyweight wrestler Sgt. 1st Class Dremiel Byers is more determined than ever to win an Olympic gold medal.
“I’ve been number one in the world,” said Byers, the only U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler to win gold, silver and bronze medals at the World Championships. “I need to be number one in the world when the world is watching. The Olympic Games is that stage and that venue, and that’s what I’m doing this for.”
Byers, who wrestles at 264.5 pounds and normally walks around at about 286, knows a lot of hard work awaits him on the road to London. Following the 2010 World Championships, Byers took his longest break from wrestling training in six years to further his Army education.
“After the World Championships in September, I went to SLC [Senior Leadership Course] at Fort Lee, Va., and knocked out some career development training,” he explained. “After that, I went down to Georgia with my team and did an intensive training camp so we could get right and ready going into this upcoming year – because, really, it’s Olympic year right now.
“I just walked off the mat in Beijing in 2008, but it feels like yesterday,” added Byers, 36, who will be 38 if and when he competes in London. “It came real quick and I’m going to be ready for it. I’ve got this weight on, but this weight is just from taking a little time off for school.
“I got to be around my peers. I’m charged up. I feel great. I see what they’re doing, and they’re pushing me on. I feel their support and I just want to win. I want to commit to this as much as I’ve ever committed – just drive on and get it done.”
Byers finished fifth at the 2010 World Championships in Moscow, site of his gold-medal performance in the 2002 World Championships.
“I had a bad run there,” Byers said. “I messed up and didn’t do the things I needed to do. But I’ve been down before, so I know how to pick myself up. I know. And I know that people are counting on me, so I’ve got to go wrestle.”
WCAP head wrestling coach Shon Lewis has faith in Byers.
“He knows these are the last 15 or 16 months of his wrestling career,” Lewis said, “so we’re just trying to rededicate ourselves and refocus.
“He hasn’t taken a break like this from wrestling year-round at a world-class level. I’m sure that he can get it done. He just has to be disciplined about it because he’s getting a little older now.”
Byers finds it hard to fathom that his on-mat career is winding down.
“I truly appreciate the Army World Class Athlete Program for giving me the opportunity to compete and this life that I have,” he said. “I can’t believe it sometimes. I sit back and think about all of the places that I’ve gone and think about the people that I’ve been around, the other Olympians and athletes and coaches. They have in some way helped me build my character or who I am, and I’m truly grateful.”
Byers likely will leave his boots on the mat in London — the traditional way wrestlers signal retirement.
“I think somebody might make that decision for me,” Byers said. “All I know is that we have guys on the team now that make me want to just go win with them. This team is close to doing an all black-and-gold U.S. Olympic or World Team. On paper, it’s stacked up unbelievably.”
Since last season, the Army WCAP team added two-time World bronze medalist Harry Lester and U.S. Olympic and World Team member Spenser Mango to the strongest wrestling squad in America.
“We have the best guys in the country trying to get on this team because they are taking notice of all the hard work the coaches are putting in and Shon Lewis’ efforts in making this an all black-and-gold U.S. Olympic or World team,” Byers said. “That guy doesn’t sleep half the time. I want to be a part of that.
“I would hope to start coaching. That is a dream of mine to keep that going and be there for that because there’s a tradition here and I want to keep it going. I believe in this program. I believe in my coaches. I believe in what I’ve learned, and I want to see that continue to do well.”