Andre Metzger wrestling against time

Mar 19 2012 - 6:14pm

The other wrestlers at the U.S. Olympic Training Center gave him a nickname. They call him "coach."

At 52, Andre Metzger knows he looks the part: thinning hair, graying temples. When his middle son learned he was coming out of retirement to compete at the U.S. Olympic wrestling trials April 20-22 in Iowa City, Iowa, Jondavid Metzger told his father he must "lose all fear." Jondavid is 27.

When Andre Metzger was 27, he was preparing for his fifth senior world championships. It was 1987 and Metzger -- a Michigan native and former two-time NCAA champion at Oklahoma (1981-82) -- returned home from France as the bronze medalist at 68kg (150 pounds).

But now Metzger is back, determined to complete a career nearly 20 years after leaving the sport following a bizarre series of events that he says involved John E. du Pont, the chemical fortune heir who was found guilty but mentally ill in 1997 in the shooting death of Olympic gold medalist David Schultz.

Du Pont died in a western Pennsylvania prison in December 2010. Metzger once worked alongside du Pont as an assistant wrestling coach at Villanova; in 1988, Metzger filed a lawsuit accusing du Pont of sexual harassment. The suit was settled out of court.

When Metzger tried to launch a comeback in 1993, he said du Pont threatened him.

"So I stepped away completely," he said. "The guy did so many bad things; he was such an evil person."

At the height of his wrestling career, Metzger -- although never an Olympian -- was one of the world's top freestyle wrestlers. He has a move coined after him: the Metzger takedown.

A former high school state champ at Cedar Springs, near Grand Rapids, Metzger gained international acclaim in 1977 when he won the bronze medal at the junior world championships. Between 1979 and 1987, he qualified for five senior world championships, winning medals in three -- including silver in 1986, when he lost the championship match at 68kg to former Soviet great Arsen Fadzayev, the 1988 and 1992 Olympic champion.

Metzger lives in Norman, Okla., but has been based since January in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he pays his own way to train at the USOC facility. He resides in a dorm room at the training center that has a sink and mini-refrigerator. The showers are down the hall.

Metzger laughed when he mentioned how his "old-school" gear is popular among the younger athletes at the training center. He has loaned one of his warm-up jackets that he once wore during a Pan American Games and Olympic trials to Leigh Jaynes, an Olympic hopeful for this summer's London Games in women's freestyle wrestling. The warm-up is 30 years old.

Although Metzger experienced his most success in freestyle, he plans to compete at next month's Olympic trials in Greco-Roman -- which forbids holds below the waist -- because "my legs aren't as fast as they used to be."

Hazel Park native Steve Fraser, longtime U.S. national team coach for Greco-Roman, said he was stunned when he first heard of Metzger's comeback.

"I said, 'OK, this guy is crazy,' " Fraser said. "I hadn't heard from Andre in years. He was the real deal, a great competitor.

"The guy has been a real pleasure to have in our training room. He's training early in the morning and late at night; he's definitely a breath of fresh air."

Several older wrestlers are attempting to make comebacks at the Olympic trials, including Rulon Gardner, who won the 2000 Olympic gold medal in Greco-Roman's super heavyweight division. Gardner, who also won an Olympic bronze at the 2004 Athens Games, is 40.

Gary Abbott, director of communications for USA Wrestling, said Metzger is the oldest athlete entered for the trials by almost a decade. Another former Olympic champ -- Kurt Angle, who won gold in 1996 in Atlanta -- also plans to compete. Angle is 43.

Asked of Metzger's chances, Fraser said: "I've been coaching a lot of years, and I've learned to never say never. Let me say this: He has his work cut out for him. At 52 years old, wrestling these young studs, I would say that most people would think he doesn't have a chance. But I'm not saying that. It will be a test to see as to whether his body will allow him."

Metzger, who received a bye into the U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman trials as a former world team member (he's entered at 74kg: 163 pounds), suffered a setback last month when he suffered a torn abductor during a match at the Dave Schultz Memorial Invitational.

He said he has recovered "75 to 80 percent" from the injury. During his rehab, Metzger -- who's working on a book about his wrestling career -- said he has been incorporating more strength training into his fitness program. He also follows a strict diet that includes eating lean foods and drinking fermented tea. He puts his body fat at "3 or 4 percent."

"I know I can do it," Metzger said when asked of the likelihood of capturing an Olympic berth. "Any person that has a goal with a purpose, that's success right there. My mind's fine; I'm willing to accept anything that happens. But I'm going to give it all that I can."

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