Dustin Kilgore Globe-Trots with Team USA
By Tim Warsinsky, Plain Dealer
Dustin Kilgore stood on a Havana beach recently, catching fish and eel and making friends with locals, using just enough Spanish he learned at Berea High and Kent State.
It was another amazing moment in what he calls his "awesome year."
Kilgore, 23, has become one of USA Wrestling's fastest-rising young stars. A year after he became Kent State's first NCAA wrestling champ, he is touring the world with Team USA in preparation for the Olympic Trials on April 21-22 in Iowa City, Iowa.
"This is my first year traveling internationally, and I hope I'm taking the right steps and going in the right direction and that all this pays off," Kilgore said in a phone interview.
At the trials, Kilgore will likely be considered the top challenger at 96 kilos (211.5 pounds) to Jake Varner, who is the reigning U.S. World Team Trials champion, a 2009 and 2010 NCAA champ and a two-time runner-up.
Kilgore has come a long way since winning a state title for Berea as a junior in 2006 and heading to Kent State as a somewhat unheralded recruit in 2007.
While in Cuba, in addition to reeling in eel, Kilgore won the Cerro Pelado International, beating former Ohio State two-time NCAA champ Tommy Rowlands in the final, 2-4, 3-0, 5-4.
Last month, Kilgore also won a gold medal at the Pan American championships in Colorado. He beat Argentina's Yuri Alexei Maier, 7-1, 7-1, in the final.
This winter, Kilgore won the Sunkist Kids Tournament and has placed second at a couple of prestigious international events, the Dave Schultz Invitational and the New York Athletic Club Invitational.
He has competed and trained in London, Azerbaijan, Cuba, Ukraine and Poland.
Kilgore is taking an Olympic redshirt year off from Kent State and has one year of college eligibility remaining. He moved to Colorado Springs, Colo., to live and train full time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
"When I made the national team, I knew I could have an awesome year traveling the world," he said. "I've had a great experience meeting people and doing different things.
"This is what is really going to make my freestyle wrestling a lot better. Folkstyle is great, and I love being in college, but taking a year off was a great chance for me to improve."
While Rowlands and others shouldn't be counted out, a potential showdown looms with Varner, whom Kilgore has yet to wrestle, other than in practice. Varner has sat out several tournaments, preferring to concentrate on training.
"He's a big guy. He's an excellent wrestler," Kilgore said. "When the time comes . . . right now, I'm just training. It's not going to be easy, and it's not just him. We have other great guys at 96 kilos."
Regardless of whether Kilgore makes the 2012 team, he intends to make wrestling a full-time occupation and train for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
"I'm going to go for the gold, eventually," he said.