Olympic Spotlight: Wrestling's Garrett Lowney and Andy Hrovat
July 10, 2008
by Jeff Smith
With the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games quickly approaching, BigTen.org takes a look at both former and current Olympians who have made their mark in their respective sports. In today's "Olympic Spotlight" feature, we take a look at the Olympic wrestling careers of Minnesota's Garrett Lowney and Michigan's Andy Hrovat.
GARRETT LOWNEY, WRESTLING, MINNESOTA, 2001-03
Minnesota's Garrett Lowney is a two-time Olympian and a bronze-medal winner. A three-time U.S. World Team Trials champion from 2001-03, Lowney qualified for his first Olympic Games in 2000. At the age of 20, Lowney was the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic Team at the 2000 Games by eight years, but it did not stop the Golden Gopher from capturing the bronze medal impressive style.
In one of America's biggest upsets in Greco-Roman wrestling, Lowney upset five-time world champion Gogui Koguachvili in dominating fashion, 8-3, to become the youngest USA wrestler to medal in the Olympics. After giving up a 3-0 lead in the 97kg (213 ¾ pounds) event, Lowney recorded five points on a throw to earn the win and advance to the quarterfinals. Prior to upsetting Koguachvili, Lowney had beaten the Czech Republic's Marek Svec, 2-0.
But it was Lowney's defining win over Koguachvili that earned the talented Gopher international recognition. Koguachvili had captured the world championship in 1993-94 and 1997-99, while Lowney was competing in just his first international competition of his career. At the time, the Associated Press called the win the equivalent of a major-league team losing to a Single-A farm club in the World Series.
Lowney surprised many when he took the early lead and then allowed the match to go into overtime, tied at 3-3. He was penalized two points in the match for using his legs, which is not allowed in Greco-Roman wrestling.
Following the 2000 Games, Lowney was a two-time NCAA All-American (2001-02) at Minnesota. He earned the 2001 Big Ten Championship in the heavyweight division and helped the Golden Gophers to the NCAA title that same year. He finished third individually at the NCAA Championships and followed with a fifth-place result in 2002. Perhaps most intriguing about Lowney is that he often considered playing another Big Ten sport at another Big Ten school. A standout football player, Lowney looked into playing football at Wisconsin, but chose to focus on wrestling.
In June of 2003, Lowney suffered a scare on the mats that nearly cost him another shot at the Olympics. Lowney suffered a neck injury when he fell on his head after executing another one of his big throws. He was motionless on the mat and onlookers feared the worst. As it turned out, a herniated disc between the third and fourth vertebra put pressure on his already thin spinal cord and caused paralysis briefly. After having surgery a month later, Lowney was cleared to wrestle later in the year and the focus was solely on the Athens Games. Although he did not medal at the 2004 Olympics, making the team after his horrifying injury was just as valuable as winning the gold.
ANDY HROVAT, WRESTLING, MICHIGAN, 1999-2002
Andy Hrovat, a former Michigan standout and the Wolverines' current director of wrestling operations, is preparing this summer for his first Olympic experience. On June 15, Hrovat upset Mo Lawal in the 84kg (185 pounds) championship series at the USA Wrestling Olympic Team Trials in Las Vegas. Hrovat, who wrestled at Michigan from 1999-2002, earned a spot on the U.S. freestyle team and became the sixth Olympic wrestler in school history. He was the first Wolverine grappler to earn a spot on the Olympic team since 198-pound Steve Fraser captured the gold medal in Greco-Roman at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. The two U-M wrestlers will reunite in Beijing as Fraser will serve as the head coach of the U.S. Greco-Roman team. Fraser certainly deserved the appointment as his feat in 1984 marked the first time an American medaled in Greco-Roman Olympic competition. Hrovat will be mentored at the 2008 Games by Olympic freestyle coach Lee Kemp, who was three-time NCAA Champion at Wisconsin in the 1970s.
Hrovat earned his Olympic bid by winning four best-of-three series. He started off the day with an impressive 6-0, 6-0 bout against former Oklahoma State NCAA champion Chris Pendleton and then answered with a 3-0, 3-0 victory over Joe Williams, who beat Hrovat at last year's world trials. Hrovat finally gave up a point to an opponent in match three, but it did not matter much as he disposed of Iowa State All-American Jake Varner, 2-0, 5-1.
In the championship series, Hrovat fell 1-1, 1-0 in the first match to Lawal, who defeated the Wolverine wrestler in the championship match at the U.S. Senior Nationals in April. He then rebounded to take the second match, 0-1, 2-0, 3-0, and then scored a takedown with 17 seconds remaining in the third match to win, 0-1, 1-0, 2-2. Hrovat earned the tiebreak to secure his Olympic bid as his two-point move in the final session topped his opponent's pair of one-point maneuvers. While the match was seen as an upset due to Lawal's top-seed in the weight class, the victory was not a first for Hrovat, who also represented the United States at the 2006 World Championships after pinning Lawal at the trials.