Arlington High alum Tervel Dlagnev hasn’t wrestled in North Texas in about a decade. Now, he’s returning home with his eyes set on a return to the Olympics.
USA Wrestling is bringing two major international events to Frisco’s Dr Pepper Arena over the next two weekends. The Pan American Wrestling Championships are scheduled for Friday-Sunday, and the Pan American Olympic Games Qualifier takes place the following weekend, March 4-6.
Dlagnev, a 2003 Arlington graduate, will compete at 125 kilograms/275 pounds in the Men’s Freestyle division of the Olympic qualifier Saturday, March 5. The top two place-winners in each class will qualify his or her country for that weight class for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The USA Trials in April will determine the Team USA members at qualified weights.
Tervel Dlagnev had a chance for a bronze medal but finished fifth in the 2012 London Olympic Games.
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Dlagnev, who lives and trains in Ohio, plans to represent the United States in Rio, and he is excited for the opportunity to take the first step in North Texas, where his mother, Igrena, and sister, Kassie, still reside. He also is glad the area will host high-level international wrestling.
“I think it’s good bringing in a competition like this, with the names that are coming, and creating a buzz internationally on the Olympic year,” said Dlagnev, 30. “And, obviously, the competition itself is extremely important, because we’ve got to qualify the weight class. So that, in itself, I’m excited about getting that taken care of.”
Make no mistake, though: Rio is Dlagnev’s ultimate destination.
He entered the 2012 London Olympics as a medal contender and reached the semifinals before finishing fifth. While the overall Olympic experience was one he enjoyed, he said his showing in London has left negative feelings when he looks back to his first Games.
His journey to the medal stand derailed in the semifinals against eventual gold medalist Artur Taymazov of Uzbekistan, when he was pinned on what observers termed a questionable call. He then lost to Komeil Ghasemi of Iran with a bronze medal on the line.
306 Medal events in the Summer Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro.
At the time, Dlagnev said simply, “I didn’t perform.” Last week, he said, after four years to reflect on London, it was not as simple as he explained it then.
“I didn’t handle the situation [on the mat] well,” he said.
Specifically, he said he did not adjust when the semifinals match didn’t go as planned, and then he went into the bronze medal match unprepared for what turned out to be a physical opponent. Still, he recognizes that he has learned from the experience, and that prevents his mistakes four years ago from still gnawing at him.
“The older I get, and the more I learn about this sport — any sport — and about myself,” he said, “one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is part of being a professional and mental toughness is being able to let things go.”
Not earning a medal in London was tough for about a year.
“But I left it,” he said. “I took what I could from it, and I left the rest behind.”
Wrestling, with its ancient Olympic roots, was initially voted out of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but was reinstated in 2013, easily beating out baseball-softball and squash in voting by the International Olympic Committee.
Dlagnev, whose family moved from Bulgaria to Arlington when he was 4, enters the Pan Am qualifier off a bronze medal showing at the Paris International at the end of January. He lost again to Iran’s Ghasemi in the first round, but felt he wrestled him well and left Paris in a good spot mentally because he had not competed since last summer because of back surgery.
His back passed its first big test.
“It didn’t get hurt, and it didn’t hold me back mentally,” Dlagnev said. “I was a little rusty. My timing was off. I got tired at certain areas. But all that stuff I can clean up.”
He’ll get a chance to clean those things up back home in North Texas, where his career began out of a PE class his sophomore year at Arlington High. He has not competed in this area since the Lone Star Duals during his college career at Nebraska-Kearney, where he won two NCAA Division II championships.
“I’m pumped,” he said. “I’m real excited to get down there.”
For Dlagnev, the road back to the Olympics begins at home.
Pan American Wrestling Championships
Pan American Olympic Games Qualifier
Dr Pepper Arena, Frisco
Daily schedule for both events — Friday: Women’s Freestyle; Saturday: Men’s Freestyle; Sunday: Greco-Roman
Tickets — Single day: $14.50; Three-day pass: $39.50; Six-day pass: $59.50 (taxes and fees not included)