ATHENS, Greece — A much-debated international wrestling rule called "the clinch" led to the end of Dennis Hall’s lifetime quest for Olympic gold.
Hall, of Plover, Wis., split his two Greco-Roman matches on Tuesday and failed to advance from his pool at 121 pounds.
Ukrainian Oleksiy Vakulenko stopped Hall, 3-0, in a match decided during a six-second flurry following the clinch at the start of the second period.
"It’s ridiculous," Hall said. "They lift my arm up right when they blow the whistle. He got the jump and beat me off the whistle because the referee had my arm up.
"The clinch decided the match."
The clinch is the term for situations when the referee places opponents together, chest to chest, to lock hands on the back of the other.
The first wrestler to break the locked hands must make an immediate offensive move, or the other is awarded a point.
The clinch was used because the score at the beginning of the second period was 0-0.
Hall said both the official and his opponent were maneuvering his arm as the whistle was blown to start the period. Vakulenko drove Hall backward and exposed his back to the mat as match judges awarded the Ukranian three points.
"He won the match," Hall said. "I didn’t get the job done."
The Milwaukee-born Hall came to Athens with credentials on his side — a 1995 world championship and 1996 Olympic silver medal — but age and weight-cutting challenges mounting.
Hall, 33, had cut to 121 pounds for this Olympics, the lowest he’s been since his junior year of high school.
In the past three weeks, his diet has consisted solely of meal-replacement shakes and power bars. Hall has battled so much to cut 19 pounds from his natural weight of 140 that he shaved his head long ago.
"My whole life was to become an Olympic champion," Hall said, "and now it’s over."
Hall survived an epic match at the Olympic trials in May, going 16 minutes, 54 seconds to top longtime friend Brandon Paulson in the third of a best-of-three series to realize his Athens aspirations.
In the first match on Tuesday, Hall beat Czechoslovakia’s Petr Svehla, 3-2, to move within a win of advancing in the three-man pool.
But the opening seconds of the second period against Vakulenko — and the clinch — ended dreams of a second medal.
What does an athlete eyeing gold do when he’s knocked out of the Olympics?
"You frickin’ enjoy the rest of the Olympics — go out and have a beer or two," Hall said.