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Crowd lifts Hall to win

It was a good day gone bad for the United States in Greco-Roman wrestling. At least the Americans were in good company.

Dennis Hall, the only American to win a world Greco-Roman title, is one victory from the gold-medal match after a stomping, flag-waving crowd rallied him to two tense overtime victories Saturday.

But on a day that saw five former Olympic or world champions eliminated from gold-medal contention, four of the five Americans were bounced, including Rodney Smith, who overcame two damaged vertebrae in his neck to win his 1992 bronze medal.

Four U.S. wrestlers won their preliminary matches, and it looked as if the United States might be headed for its best day in what traditionally is one of its weakest Olympic sports. The United States has won only seven Greco-Roman medals since the modern Olympics began in 1896.

But then the losses started, and Majaahid Maynard (105{ pounds), Smith (149{), Dan Henderson (180{) and Jason Gleasman (220) were eliminated.

"We had some one-point losses, and those are the matches you have to win in the Olympics," U.S. coach Rob Hermann said. "Dennis found a way to win, and that's what you have to do _ find a way to win."

Hall, whose wife, Chrissy, expects to deliver their first child any day, beat Seref Eroglu of Turkey 3-0 in overtime, then came back to beat Chi-Ho Park of South Korea 3-2.

"When I was out there, I felt like I had the whole country behind me," said Hall, the U.S. captain who started a teamwide trend by shaving his head. "That's what keeps you going out there. That's what pumps you up."

Hall, considered the United States' best hope for its first Greco-Roman gold medal, trailed Park 2-1 after the regulation five-minute period. Under international rules, a wrestler must score at least three points to win in regulation.

Hall, who controlled the match throughout, but constantly found himself being sent to the bottom position, won by rolling Park over with 47 seconds remaining in overtime. He received one point for the reversal and another for exposing Park's back to the mat.

"The crowd was going nuts," said Hall of Stevens Point, Wis. "It was unbelievable. It was a tough match, but I'll take it."

Hall didn't know until 90 minutes after the match ended whether he had reached today's semifinals, or if he had another match. International tournaments staged by FILA, the sport's governing body, use a complicated pairings formula that even the coaches and athletes seldom understand.