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Bigger, stronger and better: Tervel Dlagnev making plenty of noise in heavyweight division

Bigger, stronger and better: Tervel Dlagnev making plenty of noise in heavyweight division
Craig Sesker USA Wrestling

Tervel Dlagnev's day usually starts with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast.

It ends with a small meal about an hour before bedtime.

In between, Dlagnev sits down for brunch, a big lunch, a snack and a big dinner. After his morning and afternoon workouts, he will consume a 300-calorie protein shake.

It's all part of his 6,000 calorie-a-day plan, coupled with strength work in the weight room, to become bigger, stronger and more competitive at his freestyle weight class of 120 kg/264.5 lbs.

The plan has worked to perfection so far for Dlagnev. Now about 25 pounds heavier than he was at June's U.S. Olympic Team Trials, the 260-pound Dlagnev's commitment to becoming bigger paid off late last month when he won the New York Althetic Club International (A Sports Club).

“My goal is to keep my weight right around 120 kilos and be as strong and as physical and as fast as I possibly can,? Dlagnev said. “I’m basically just trying to eat a lot, and keep it as healthy as I can. The added weight is going to really help me. I feel really good right now.?

Dlagnev, a 2008 World University champion who celebrated his 23rd birthday last month, upset 2008 U.S. Olympian Steve Mocco in the New York AC finals.

Since competing in the Olympics in August, Mocco had knocked off a past Olympic champion and Olympic bronze medalist to open the 2008-09 season.

"Mocco’s physical and intense, and I knew he was going to bring it,? Dlagnev said. “He’s very hard to score on. It was a big win for me. He placed seventh in the Olympics, and he’s a great wrestler. It’s a great confidence-builder. It’s early in the season, but it’s good to know I’m improving. I know I will obviously see him quite a bit more this season.?

For a guy who weighed in about 30 pounds under the maximum allowed for his weight class at the Olympic Trials, Dlagnev was facing numerous competitors who have to cut weight to make 120 kilos.

With international governing body FILA's one-point pushout rule, which was implemented in 2005, bigger wrestlers like Mocco have feasted on smaller heavyweights like Dlagnev.

“It is tough being 240 pounds, and getting pushed out of bounds by guys who are a lot bigger than me,? Dlagnev said. “I just wasn’t big enough in the past. I’m getting there now.?

At the New York AC International, Dlagnev did a better job holding his ground against Mocco. Dlagnev won the match, 1-1, 0-2, 2-1.

"My goal was to stay in there and not get pushed out, but I think Mocco still pushed me out of bounds four times in the match,? Dlagnev said. “Plus, he scored more points than I did overall. I can’t let that happen. He definitely exposed a lot of weaknesses. I still have a lot of work to do.?

The athletic Dlagnev thrives with an array of leg attacks, including a lethal low single that he took Mocco down with in New York.

“I’m 260 now, but I still feel like I have my speed and quickness and agility,? Dlagnev said. “I’m still looking to get stronger, but I need to be able to keep moving like I am now.?

Dlagnev, now helping as a club coach at the University of Northern Iowa, continues to raise his level of wrestling as he's now ranked No. 2 in the U.S. behind Mocco at 120 kilos. He is 1-1 in his career against Mocco.

The first time they wrestled, Mocco won 3-0, 3-0 at the 2007 U.S. Nationals.

“He got a couple of pushouts and a couple of go-behinds off my shots,? said Dlagnev, who competes for the Sunkist Kids. “He really put it on me.?

Dlagnev and Mocco trained together in Iowa just a few weeks before the New York AC meet. Mocco trains in Iowa City now, just down the road from where Dlagnev is in Cedar Falls.

The heavyweight class in the U.S. also may still include Tommy Rowlands, who placed fifth in the World in 2007 before falling to Mocco in the finals of the 2008 Olympic Trials. Rowlands is still weighing his options as far as continuing to compete.

Among the other top heavyweights competing are Les Sigman and Scott Steele. Sigman finished fifth at the Olympic Trials. Steele, who wrestles collegiately for Navy, was a surprising third-place finisher at the Olympic Trials.

Dlagnev was born in Bulgaria and moved to the U.S. when he was four years old. He did not start wrestling until his sophomore year of high school in Arlington, Texas. Third and fourth at the Texas state tournament, he drew virtually no interest from college recruiters.

One school that did notice was Nebraska-Kearney, an NCAA Division II school.

Dlagnev has been on a roll since winning his first Division II national title in March 2007. He followed the next month by placing fourth at the U.S. Nationals. In October 2007, he beat long-time college rival Sigman for the first time ever in the finals of the Sunkist Kids International Open.

Dlagnev followed by capping his college career with his second national title and led his team to its first NCAA crown in school history.

Dlagnev continued the momentum with a third-place finish at the 2008 U.S. Nationals, winning his last four matches after falling to Sigman in the quarterfinals. Dlagnev beat past World bronze medalist Tolly Thompson in the match for third place.

Dlagnev then failed to place at June's Olympic Trials. He went 1-2, falling to Steele and Pat Cummins after winning his first bout.

"For some reason, I wasn’t ready to wrestle hard at the Trials and my conditioning wasn’t where it needed to be,? he said. “There are no excuses. I didn’t wrestle in my strong positions. I just didn’t wrestle well.?

Dlagnev quickly regrouped to win the World University Championships in early July in Greece.

“It was great to have a chance to get back on the mat and rebound from the Trials,? he said. “I was fired up and ready to go for University Worlds. It was great to have some success against overseas competition.?

Dlagnev’s recent win over Mocco caught the attention of new U.S. National Freestyle Coach Zeke Jones, who was in New York for the event.

“Tervel has really made nice progress,? Jones said. “His main strengths are his ability to wrestle in all positions. He’s multi-dimensional. He moves very well for a heavyweight. He moves as well as any heavyweight, which gives him an advantage. He is very good at attacking the legs.

“His potential is really high. He obviously has wrestling to learn. He needs to make progress in his mental preparation and he needs to continue to gain experience internationally.?

Dlagnev has competed just twice overseas. He wrestled at the World University Championships this past summer in Greece. This fall, he competed in an international event in Russia. He fell short of placing in that event.

He said his next event likely is the Dave Schultz Memorial International in early February in Colorado Springs.

Dlagnev said he didn’t get much sleep during the Olympic Games. Like many wrestling fans who were back home watching in the U.S., he stayed up late to watch many of the matches that were shown on television and on the Internet.

“I watched as many matches as I could,? he said. “I like watching everybody, from the little guys all the way up to the heavyweights. I was so excited and pumped up to watch the matches. It’s the first time I’ve really watched wrestling in the Olympics. In 2000, I hadn’t started to wrestle. In 2004, I didn’t really know a lot about international wrestling. Now, I pretty much know who all the guys are now so it was fun to watch. I studied a lot of the matches and I tried to learn things that might help me.?

Dlagnev’s favorite part of the Olympics wasn’t the wrestling.

“It was the Opening Ceremonies,? he said. “I loved the parade of countries and watching all the athletes walk into the stadium. When the U.S. team finally came in, I saw two of our wrestlers, Andy Hrovat and Spenser Mango, walking with all the athletes. That was really cool. It was so exciting. It would be so sweet to be part of that in 2012.?

For now, Dlagnev is shooting for a more immediate goal. Making the U.S. freestyle team for the 2009 World Championships, set for Sept. 21-27 in Herning, Denmark.

“My goal is to be on the 2009 World Team,? he said. “I want to be a World champ and win a gold medal, that’s the plan. I love wrestling, and I love the process of training and trying to continually get better. I still have so much to learn.?