When Terry Brands retired from wrestling in September 1999, he
felt he was bringing a merciful end to a career that had been in
a tailspin since the 1996 U.S. Olympic trials. There Brands, the
favorite at 126 pounds, had lost in the finals to Kendall Cross,
who went on to win the gold medal in Atlanta. Brands then missed
the '98 season with a hip injury. Last year, suffering from a
string of blackouts and headaches that doctors were unable to
explain, he'd finally had enough. "It was scary," he says. "I
really thought I was done."
Calling it quits may have been the wisest career move that the
32-year-old Brands ever made. Always considered tightly wound,
even for a wrestler, he had ridden a monster work ethic to three
national and two world titles. Soon after his retirement the
blackouts stopped, never to return, and Brands realized that he
had never accounted for growing older. "The harder I went, the
worse I felt," he says. "I used to get up at 4:30 to work out,
come back at 11, again at six, and then go for a sauna. I can't
do that anymore. I finally learned to back off."
After a winter of scaled-back training, Brands took aim at
Sydney. His twin brother, Tom, was the gold medalist in Atlanta
at 137 pounds, and until this summer (when Terry joined the staff
at Nebraska) the two were assistant coaches at Iowa, their alma
mater. Yet Tom tried to dissuade Terry from coming back. "He
thought I might be doing it for the wrong reasons," Terry says.
"That was easy for him to say. He's got the gold."
Admitted to the June trials as a past world team member, Brands
tore through the competition, beating U.S. champ Kerry Boumans in
the final. Two days later he was in Iowa City with his wife,
Michelle, as she gave birth to their daughter, whom the couple
named Sydney. "I wouldn't be going if I didn't think I could
win," Brands says. "I'm better than I was. Four years
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL