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Hall stuck with silver; Kazakhstani gets gold

On a day Dennis Hall could have accomplished so many firsts, he came in second best.

Competing before a pumped-up crowd seldom seen for Greco-Roman wrestling in the United States, Hall was taken to the mat early and lost 4-1 Sunday to Kazakhstan's Yuri Melnichenko in the 125{-pound final.

Hall beat Melnichenko in overtime in last year's world final, but was surprised by a three-point lift and throw 1:32 into the five-minute match. He fought desperately to come back but Melnichenko stubbornly protected his lead _ and, with it, the gold medal.

"I wanted to bring home the gold, but I didn't get it done," Hall said. "I respected him, but I guess I didn't respect him enough. He said he would get me back, so now it's up to me to get him back."

It seemed Hall, who shaved his head two weeks ago as a motivational ploy, would become the first American gold medalist in Atlanta.

He was a world champion, wrestling at home before a sign-waving crowd that alternately chanted "Go, Dennis, Go," and "U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A." And he wanted badly to win not only for his pregnant wife, Chrissy, but for the late brother, Dan, he lost in a drinking-related traffic accident.

It also would have been a long-sought first for the United States: a Greco-Roman gold medal in a non-boycotted Olympics.

Instead, it was a big loss for Hall, and it all resulted from a big lift.

As Hall searched for an opening, Melnichenko caught him up high, lifted him off his feet and tossed him to the mat. The referee added a point for technique, making it 4-0 not even halfway into the match.

Such a bonus point can be awarded only by the mat officials, and the criteria often seem to vary. The crowd immediately whistled its displeasure, but the damage was done.

"Maybe if it had been only two points, it would have been different," Hall said. "It hurt. I like to get out there and get the crowd into it. It's tough coming back like that."

Hall won his first three matches in overtime, one after trailing 2-1.

"This gives me a great feeling," Melnichenko said. "I've been preparing for this for a long time. To beat the world champion in the final is very prestigious."

Hall missed becoming the United States' third Greco-Roman Olympic champion. Jeff Blatnick and Steve Fraser won during the 1984 Los Angeles Games, which were boycotted by the Soviets.

While Hall lost, two other returning world champions, Sim Kwon-Ho (105{ pounds) of South Korea and Turkey's Hamza Yerlikaya (180{), celebrated golds with flag-waving victory laps. And Poland had two more gold medals to cheer, giving it three for the games.

Ryszard Wolny (149{) and Andrzej Wronski (220) grabbed gold for Poland, with Wronski awarded a referee's decision over Sergei Lishtvan of Belarus after eight scoreless minutes.

"I wasn't worried," Wronski said. "I knew it was just a formality. I knew I had won it."