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Saturday, Apr 21 2012 09:36 PM

Varner earns berth into Olympics

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    Jake Varner earns an Olympic berth

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BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer zewing@bakersfield.com

It's going to take more than this country can offer to stop Jake Varner. And he doesn't plan on letting anyone else do it, either.

The Bakersfield High graduate saw his wrestling career reach dizzying new heights Saturday night: He won his weight division at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Iowa City, Iowa, and is off to London in August for his first Olympic Games.

"I won't rest till I get that gold medal," Varner said in a phone interview. "Everybody gets excited when they become an Olympian, but that's not the ultimate goal."

Varner swept a best-of-three series from Tommy Rowlands in the finals of the 96-kilogram (211-pound) freestyle bracket, winning the first match 0-1, 2-0, 1-0 and the second one 2-0, 1-0 to clinch the U.S. berth.

Varner, who won two NCAA championships at Iowa State and a bronze medal at the World Championships in Istanbul last year, was considered the heavy favorite at 96 kg in the trials. But he still had to beat Rowlands, who also was a two-time collegiate champion.

"It was a good feeling when that whistle blew, just knowing that I finally did it," Varner said. "I got to where I wanted to be to accomplish my goal."

Now Varner, who is considered a medal threat in London, has more on his mind.

"Every Olympian should want to be an Olympic champion," he said. "I'll get excited now and then get back in that training room."

The 96 kg Olympic tournament takes place on the Games' final day, Aug. 12, in the ExCel London arena.

Because Varner was a world medalist, he received a bye to the finals Saturday while Rowlands had to win a challenger tournament earlier in the day to advance.

Still, Rowlands, who like Varner won two NCAA titles, proved a stiff test. After a scoreless first period in the opening match, Rowlands won the 30-second tiebreaker by pushing Varner out of the circle for a point. Suddenly, Varner needed to come from behind.

"You don't have much time to worry about that kind of stuff," Varner said. "It happens, but you've just go to come back, stick to your game, and that's just what I did."

He got a takedown with about 30 seconds to go in the second period and exposed Rowlands to his back for two points. He snapped Rowlands' head to take him down again in the deciding third period.

"He's a big strong guy who came down from (the 120 kg class)," Varner said. "He was harder to move than some guys. He's a really good wrestler."

The second match was more routine: Varner scored takedowns about midway through each of the first two periods. He calmly pumped his fists and walked off, with Big Ben and the Tower of London on the horizon.

"It's a good feeling to be able to do this and have this opportunity," Varner said.

Note: Varner's finals matches will be televised today on tape delay from 1-4 p.m. on NBC Sports Network (channel 110 on Brighthouse, 603 on DirecTV and 640 on AT&T UVerse).

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