At 49, Lewis proves he's still a force
Former Hawkeye star wins two in his coming-out-of-retirement party
Andy Hamilton ? Iowa City Press-Citizen ? May 17, 2009
WATERLOO -- Randy Lewis arrived Saturday at Young Arena with a big box of shirts and a bigger following.
This wasn't his 50th birthday celebration. That will come next month.
This was his coming-out-of-retirement party.
The 1984 Olympic gold medalist brought his own cheering section to the Northern Plains Regional freestyle tournament. All decked out in "Team Lewboo" shirts that pictured Lewis with a flat stomach, a full head of hair and an Olympic gold around his neck, they wanted to see what the heavier, bald version had left after a 17-year break from competition.
"I did this to see if I'm as tough as I think I am," he said. "I still think I am, but not every time."
Lewis posted a pair of victories before Northern Iowa All-American Moza Fay handled the former Iowa great 9-2, 7-0 in the semifinals at 163 pounds.
Lewis got past James Reynolds (1-0, 3-0) and Trent Larrieu (3-1, 5-1) with craftiness and savvy, baiting them to shoot to his right leg, once known as the "impossible leg" and using his countering skills to rack up points. But Fay, 23, had too much leverage and strength for Lewis to overcome with experience.
"I told myself before this that if I got someone who was real tight with me on top and there's a decision to get hurt or get turned, I'm going to let them turn me," Lewis said. "That was the decision Moza Fay gave me."
It wasn't really Fay's choice. He said he didn't want to wrestle Lewis and viewed it as "a lose-lose situation."
"If you lose, you lost to a (49)-year-old guy, and if you win you probably broke his leg," Fay said. "But I thought it was really neat when I first found out he was wrestling here. I thought that was really cool. No (49)-year-old wrestles in this tournament. It takes a lot of heart. He beat two guys. That's amazing. The training and time it takes to do that at that age is just incredible."
Lewis said he had been contemplating a return to competition for years, but his body would never hold up through training. Thus, he spent the last two weeks concentrating more on his weight and cardiovascular shape than getting on the mat in live wrestling situations that would risk a derailment to his plans.
"About three or four times I tried to train, and I tried it this way without training," Lewis said. "It was fun. Actually, my shape was a lot better than I thought because I didn't really even get that tired in my first two matches, and I wasn't that tired in that match either. But I made a couple mistakes against Moza, and he's too solid for me to give up that much position, and then when he got on top it was over."
Lewis wasn't the only attraction at the tournament, just the main one. All-American Daniel Dennis, who will be a senior at Iowa in the fall, beat Luke Smith, reigning NCAA champion Franklin Gomez and All-American Brandon Precin on his way to the title at 132.25 pounds. Iowa strength and conditioning coach Jared Frayer wrestled six periods in three matches on his way to the title at 145.5, outscoring his opponents 29-1 with one pin.
But nobody else in the tournament captured the attention quite the way Lewis did. The action on all five other mats stopped when his matches started.
"It's great for the sport to honor an Olympic champ like that," Fay said. "I just wish I wasn't the guy who had to wrestle him. He's probably the one guy I didn't want to wrestle for several reasons. He's an Olympic champ, he's (49) years old."
Lewis hadn't competed since the 1992 Olympic Trials. His last competitive match came against Nate Carr. Oddly enough, one of the wrestlers in Lewis' bracket Saturday was Carr's son, Nate Jr.
Any chance of a Lewis-Carr meeting ended when Lewis forfeited his consolation matches.
"I came out of it healthy," Lewis said. "It was a great experience. I'm glad I did it."
Lewis got an ovation after his match with Fay. Moments after the official raised Fay's hand in victory, the Northern Iowa senior grabbed Lewis' hand and did the same.
"It was a lot of fun," Lewis said. "I didn't get as tired as I thought I was going to get, but I got a lot more sore in between matches. My body tightened up on me. A lot of people thought where I was going to be good was on the mat turning people, but it's all the feet for me at my age. I knew against Moza Fay that I didn't want to get underneath. Unfortunately, I got there a couple times."
Reach Andy Hamilton at 339-7368 or email@example.com.