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COLUMNISTS

Thu, August 26, 2004

Exercising past demons


ATHENS -- If ever there was an Olympian who knew all about losing, it's American Daniel Cormier.

At age seven, he lost his father in a Thanksgiving Day shooting stemming from a family dispute.

As a teen, he lost his cousin and his best friend in separate car accidents and, in university, he lost a good pal in an airplane crash. The most devastating loss came last summer when his three-month old daughter, Kaedyn, was killed in yet another car crash.

"I've had a lot of things happen to me in my life and a lot of people in my life passing away," the

25-year-old wrestler said. "It hasn't been easy but it has made me appreciate everything and every opportunity I've had."

On Saturday, he'll have the opportunity of a lifetime to pay tribute to all those who won't be able to see him realize his dream when he steps onto the mat to represent his country in the 96-kg freestyle competition.

When he does so, thoughts of his lost loved ones will be in the back of his mind as he's dedicating his performance to them all.

"This is an opportunity to wrestle on the biggest stage possible and to honour people with everything I can and that's by wrestling," said Cormier, who also has seen many of his friends' lives destroyed by drugs and gangs in his crime-ridden hometown of Lafayette, La.

"If I win that medal, it will be in honour of my daughter, my father, my friends and anybody who ever meant anything to me who's not here anymore. This is for them."

It's a fitting forum for the 212-lb. Pan-Am Games champ to pay tribute, given his wrestling days were born out of the pain, anger and frustration of his tragedies.

"When I was younger and wrestling and all these things were happening, instead of going out and fighting someone on the street, I could go out and wrestle and be physical with somebody," said Cormier, who was taught to harness his emotions by a high school teacher who saw the youngster fighting out front of his school one day and encouraged him to try wrestling.

"It was an escape -- a way to release something. I was getting into all kinds of trouble fighting and stuff. I even got kicked out of school at one point."

Developing into an all-state wrestling and football star, Cormier accepted a scholarship at Oklahoma State University where he catapulted on to the U.S. wrestling team for the 2002 Pan-Am Games and won gold.

But while preparing for the world championships in New York City last summer, tragedy struck when his daughter was killed in the car crash.

"That was my only girl," said Cormier, staring into space when asked about Kaedyn. "My only baby girl."

Three months later, he used wrestling as a crutch by stepping onto the mat at Madison Square Garden. However, after losing a close match, his pent-up emotions boiled over and he shoved his opponent.

"What I did was unacceptable, ridiculous," said Cormier, who won't face top Canadians Guivi Sissaouri (60 kg) or Daniel Igali (74 kg) as they're in different classes.

"I was way too emotional and had a lot going on outside wrestling. I had a hard time talking to anybody about it but I've since got help to control emotions in matches.

"I've been in the tough situations and

I know how to handle them. How could those situations not make me tougher in life and in sports? That's what I'm going to bring into these Olympics."

That, and a wonderful tribute.


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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