Illinois standouts chasing dreams of Olympic glory

By Jeremy Werner

Two former Illinois wrestlers will compete in this weekend’s 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Las Vegas for the chance to represent the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Lindsey Durlacher (55 kg, 121 lbs.) enters the trials as the No. 2 seed in the Greco-Roman competition, while Matt Lackey (74 kg, 163 lbs.) competes as the No. 4 seed in freestyle.

Durlacher, a two-time All-American at 118 lbs. in 1996-97 while at Illinois, was a bronze medalist at the 2006 World Championships and was the runner-up at this year’s U.S. Nationals.

He will start competition Friday.

Lackey, the 2003 NCAA Champion at 165 lbs., recently took second in the Guelph Open and fourth at U.S. Nationals.

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The Illini graduate had back surgery in March 2007 and did not get back on the mat until September last year.

Despite the “long road back,” Lackey said he is relaxed and confident heading into his match on Saturday. He is hoping to fulfill his dreams of making the Olympic team.

“It would really just be the icing on the cake for my career,” Lackey said. “Not to be overly confident, but I’ve accomplished a lot in my career, so I’d be forever proud of what I’ve done if I make the Olympic team.”

Illinois coach Mark Johnson will serve as Lackey’s coach this weekend in Las Vegas.

“It’ll be a sense of comfort with Coach Johnson in my corner,” Lackey said. “I had him there for me for four years, so I think having him there pushing me will definitely help.”

USA Wrestling will also honor Johnson and his 1980 Olympic teammates at the trials.

The team did not compete at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow because of a U.S. government boycott of the games.

Johnson made the Olympic team in the 198-pound Greco-Roman.