LONDON -- The "Dlagnev" on the back of the U.S. wrestling jersey doesn't seem to fit with the American flag. But the Bulgaria-born and Arlington-reared Tervel Dlagnev is the All-American boy.
He speaks perfect English without a hint of an accent -- Bulgarian or Texan. He enjoys greasy breakfast burritos and is an avid watcher of So You Think You Can Dance.
Dlagnev was made in the USA, and more than anything, he wants to hear the national anthem played for him at the ExCeL Exhibition Center on Saturday.
"It's going to mean a lot," Dlagnev said of winning for the red, white and blue. "I never wrestled in Bulgaria. My wrestling is all American. I've pretty much grown up American. My parents have kept their Bulgarian roots, and I respect it all, but I love my country. And thinking about being on the top of the podium, with the national anthem playing, is great. Watching all these other medal ceremonies is something that fires me up."
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Dlagnev's family moved from Bulgaria when he was 4, and he became a U.S. citizen a few years later. He was a sophomore at Arlington High School when wrestling coach Henry Harmoney began scouting PE classes for talent. Dlagnev was big and strong and struggling in school.
An Olympian was born.
Dlagnev, 26, won the freestyle division at 120 kg/264.5 pounds at the U.S. Team Trials in April to earn the right to compete in the London Games. While getting here was an accomplishment, Dlagnev didn't come merely to walk in the Opening Ceremony, live in the Olympic Village, wear official Team USA clothing and watch world-class table tennis.
He has come to win.
"I've beaten most of these guys, or at least beaten someone who's beaten them," Dlagnev said. "The expectation is there. For anyone to become an Olympic champion, things have to go your way. It's combat. They're trying to impose their way; I'm trying to impose mine. You have to wake up and be great that day. There definitely are going to have to be some things that have to go your way. But the bottom line is: If I perform to the best of my abilities, I think the result will speak for itself."
Dlagnev is 27-1 this year. His only loss was in the finals of the Ivan Yarygin Memorial in Russia to Russian Bakhtiyar Akhmedov, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist.
In his career, Dlagnev has beaten nearly every top heavyweight in the world except Russia's Bilyal Makhov, the three-time world champion. Dlagnev beat two-time Olympic champion Artur Taymazov of Uzbekistan at worlds last year, and he also has beaten Belarus' Alexei Shemarov, the surprise world champion in 2011.
"Tervel will be in the thick of things to win," said Lou Rosselli, who trains Dlagnev in Columbus, Ohio. "He's good enough; he's been good enough. We're excited for him to have his best performance of the year. There are some guys in his weight class who are very competitive. But he's as good as them, if not better. He's probably one of the best heavyweights we've had in a while who can shoot, is in great shape and is very cerebral. We can't wait to see what he can do."