Seven years to prepare for gold

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LONDON -- Cael Sanderson spent the past seven years teaching Jake Varner how to be a world champion -- and he was there Sunday when Varner joined him as an Olympic gold medalist.

With Sanderson watching, Varner defeated Valerie Andriitsev of Ukraine, 1-0, 1-0, to win gold in men's 96-kilogram freestyle.

Coupled with Jordan Burroughs' win in the 74 kilograms Friday night, it gave the American team multiple Olympic gold medalists in men's wrestling for the first time since 1996.

"Still not sure I'm in his league, but it's awesome to be coached by a guy like that," Varner said of Sanderson, a gold medalist in 2004.

"I owe him a lot. It means a lot to have him with me."

Varner and Sanderson's relationship began in 2005 at Iowa State, where Sanderson coached before jumping to Penn State. The day after Varner graduated in 2010, he piled up the car and drove 15 hours to Pennsylvania to train full-time with Sanderson.

Sanderson said last week that Varner had pounded on him during training sessions leading up to the Olympics. Varner showed that good form by winning four consecutive matches for gold.

"He was going to get me to my ultimate goal, which was to win a gold medal at the Olympics -- and that's what he did," Varner said.

Varner will also collect a $250,000 bonus from the Living the Dream fund, which supports American wrestling.

Throughout the Olympic tournament, the U.S. wrestlers received unfavorable draws in their unseeded brackets. They finally got lucky with Varner.

Most of the top medal contenders were on the other side of the bracket, and Varner opened with a win against Kurban Kurbanov of Uzbekistan and a victory against Canadian Khetag Pliev.

Varner then beat George Gogshelidze of Georgia in the semifinals. Andriitsev was the underdog against Iranian world champion Reza Yazdani in the other semifinal, but Yazdani hurt his leg just 28 seconds into the first period.

Varner fell to his knees at the end of the final. He soon found Sanderson, embracing the friend who helped make it all possible.

"Jake watched Cael win a gold medal as a kid. Came to Iowa State because he had that same goal. When they were there, Cael mentored him, coached him and became his friend," U.S. freestyle coach Zeke Jones said. "From that moment, they had a dream together that said, 'I want to be the best in the world. I want to be the best in the world.' And Jake did -- and Cael got to be a part of that."

Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu of Japan also won gold in men's 66-kilogram freestyle to give the Japanese their first Olympic title in the sport in 24 years.



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