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Ghaffari second-best

Matt Ghaffari's magnificent obsession continues. A silver medal and a hug from his father are not enough. Alexander Karelin still haunts him.

This was to be the match that ended the Russian's domination of Greco-Roman wrestling. It was to be the first U.S. gold medal in the sport here. It was to make Karelin mortal and Ghaffari a champion.

It was close.

But a technical point awarded to Karelin 1:55 into the match Tuesday was all that mattered. He managed to wrestle Ghaffari out of the ring and won 1-0 after the regulation five minutes and the three-minute overtime. Karelin won his third al.

When the Russian national anthem was played and the Russian flag raised behind the victory stand, the Iranian-born Ghaffari was in tears. When the ceremony ended, Ghaffari sought out his parents, handed flowers to his mother and gave the silver medal to his father before they embraced.

"I must have wrestled this match 100 times in my head today," Ghaffari said, sweat still pouring from his shaved head and through a stars-and-stripes kerchief. "I wanted to hang a gold medal around my father's neck. I wanted to hear the Star-Spangled Banner. This is my home country. I wanted to do it here. The next Olympics, maybe. Australia, here I come."

Ghaffari has lost to Karelin 21 times. He is not alone. The huge Russian has won every gold medal in international competition the past nine years, including last year's world championship with a 10-0 victory over Ghaffari in the final.

This was as close as anyone has come to beating Karelin. Ghaffari has taken him to overtime twice. Only one other wrestler, Moldavian bronze medalist Serguei Moureiko, has done it once.

Ghaffari was 16 when his father, nervous about the ascent to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini, moved his family to the United States.

When the Iran hostage crisis erupted in the late '70s, Ghaffari became an outcast in his adopted country. His college coach, he once said, "added an o to the end of my name when we wrestled at other schools. Ghaffario. He made me Italian."

In 1988, Ghaffari failed to make the U.S. freestyle team and accepted an invitation to wrestle for Iran.

"When I got to Seoul," he said, "I wasn't allowed to talk to any of my former U.S. teammates. I was told they were enemies. I didn't want any victory to be used for propaganda back in Iran."

When he changed his mind about wrestling, Iran had him arrested. After three days of detention by Korean police, Ghaffari was put on a plane back to the United States. In 1991 he won silver at the world championships, losing to Karelin in the final. He was recovering from surgery before the '92 Olympics and failed to medal.

In other finals, Armen Nazaryan of Armenia defeated American Brandon Paulson in the 114{-pound class. Wlodzimierz Zawadski won at 136{ and Feliberto Ascuy Aguilera of Cuba won gold at 163.

_ The Associated Press contributed to this report.