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Preparing to take on the world

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For Les Gutches, the countdown to his first chance to win a world openfreestyle wrestling championship is less than three weeks away.

Gutches, 24, a former South Medford High and Oregon State Universitystar, will represent the United States in the 85-kilogram (187.25 pounds)weight class of the 1997 Freestyle Championships, Aug. 28-31, at Krasnoyarsk,Russia.

I've been in three world tournaments as a junior wrestler, butthis is the first at the open level, says Gutches. I'm excited.I've put in a lot of time and work to get ready for this.

Other than the Olympics, this is the biggest meet there is in freestylewrestling, says Gutches, who finished seventh in the 85-kilogram divisionin the 1996 Olympic Games. Based on how hard I've worked, I'll bedisappointed if I don't win.

Gutches says he's still wrestling in pain after undergoing back surgeryfor a ruptured disc late last year.

Every wrestler has to wrestle with some degree of pain and injuries,says Gutches. My main concern is staying focused to do what I'm goingthere to do.

There's going to be some home cooking involved with competing inRussia, but I'm ready to handle it. It's the most important tournament ofthe year.

In some respects, it's tougher than the Olympics because they havea cutoff of competitors in each division at the Olympics. In the world championships,you can have about 50. You can have one wrestler in each division per country.

Gutches says he will need to win six or seven matches without a lossto win the world championship. He expects 1996 Olympic 85-kilogram goldmedalist Magio Medov of Russia to be the favorite in the division.

It will be tough to beat him in Russia, says Gutches. ButI may not have to face him.

He may not get to the finals. I don't care who I face in the finals.It doesn't concern me. I've been training to win, and anything less thanthat I would be disappointed with.

Oregon State head wrestling coach Joe Wells, who coached Gutches to threeNCAA championships, says his former pupil, who is now an OSU assistant coach,is ready to rumble.

This is his first time in a world meet, says Wells. Hewants to be a world champion. He's worked hard and wrestled pretty wellthis year.

Gutches earned his spot on the U.S. world team by defeating rival KevinJackson in two out of three matches in June in the U.S. World Team Trialsin Las Vegas.

Gutches was awarded a referee's decision in the final match after hebattled Jackson to a 0-0 standoff.

I thought Les wrestled well in that tournament, says Wells.I think the referee awarded Les the decision based on the number ofoffensive attempts. It was something like 9-4.

Jackson had been training harder and working real hard, saysWells. They were very hard-fought matches. Les had chances to scoremore points, but Jackson fought him real hard.

Gutches flies to Miami on Thursday to join his teammates for a finaltraining session. The team will primarily train at Simbaugh Air Force Basein Germany next week prior to arriving in Krasnoyarsk on Aug 23.

U.S. coach Lee Roy Smith says Gutches is ready to assert himself withhis most impressive international performances to date in the world finals.

This will be a breakthrough tournament for Les, predictsSmith. I think that he has prepared himself to overcome all distractionsin preparation for the championships. He has a super work ethic, and isvery structured in his approach.

He's very coachable, and has so many good qualities. If he is confidentand has a good mental focus, he is capable of beating anybody in the weightclass.

Other U.S. team members are Zeke Jones of Chandler, Ariz., at 54 kilograms;Terry Brands of Iowa City, Iowa, at 58 kilograms; Cary Kolat of Rice Landing,Pa., at 63 kilograms; Lincoln McIlravy of Philip, S.D., at 69; Dan St. Johnof Norman, Okla., at 76; Melvin Douglas of Mesa, Ariz., at 97; and Tom Eriksonof West Lafayette, Ind., at 125.

Smith ran a training session for the team on July 27-Aug. 10 at ColoradoSprings, Colo.

It was a great team effort in camp. They pulled together as a group,says Smith. Considering the challenge ahead of us, we need to feelthe support from one another.

There will be more of a challenge than most world championships,as we will be going into the heart of our major competitor ­ Russia.

I would love to come home with a world championship ring,says Gutches. But it will be tough to do in Russia. I'm definitelylooking forward to testing myself against these guys.

Les Gutches will face top competitors like Olympic opponent Aleksandr Savko at the world championships.