PORTSMOUTH, Va. (NNS) -- It's an Olympic year in 2004 and all around the world, athletes are training to earn a spot and compete for the gold in August for their respective countries in Athens, Greece.
One such athlete is Aviation Boatswain's Mate -Electrical Airman Matt Birner of USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) Air Department's V-2 Division.
Birner, a native of Peru, Ind., joined the All Navy Wrestling Team in January 2002, just two months after reporting to HST. He's had to dedicate himself and work hard by going through a series of trials before finally earning himself a position on the team, but it has paid off.
"To be on the All Navy Team, you have to win one of four tournaments. Afterwards, the winners go to a camp in Florida where each weight class wrestles off, and whoever wins is on the team," said Birner, who wrestles in the 132-pound weight class.
A former high school wrestling stand-out, Birner works hard to condition himself all year long.
"There really is no off-season. When I return to the ship, I keep training by running and lifting weights," said Birner.
Since joining the team, Birner has gone on temporary assigned duty (TAD) to San Diego, to practice and compete with his team on several occasions.
"Before a big tournament, the coach will pull me off the ship to compete, and I'll stay in San Diego as long as the ship supports me and I keep winning," said Birner. "The normal wrestling season ends around June, but because this is an Olympic year, the season won't end until the end of August."
During the season, Birner wrestles against a variety of people in his weight class. Opponents range anywhere from other servicemembers to college athletes.
"I compete against anyone training for the Olympics," said Birner. "We don't compete team against team - it's individual against individual. At any given tournament, there could be representation from 30 different teams and colleges."
According to Birner, Team USA Wrestling schedules all the tournaments for the year several months in advance, and some of the tournaments may only be attended by invitation.
"I recently got invited to National Camp training in Colorado Springs, Colo., to train with the top wrestlers in the nation," said Birner.
Wrestlers are motivated to win tournaments for a number of reasons, according to Birner. Some compete for medals and cash prizes; others improve their wrestling rank with each win.
"In each tournament, winners are awarded medals or plaques. For some, you can win up to $1,000 in prize money," said Birner, "but you always want to improve your rank."
The biggest goal for Birner is to improve his rank. In order to do so, he must defeat a higher ranked wrestler in his weight class. Each time he advances in rank, he improves his seed position for the next tournament, with the ultimate goal of being the top seed, which would give him a berth in the Olympics.
When Birner joined the All Navy Team, he did so in order to train for the Olympic team, and that's exactly where he's heading if he can prove himself to be the best wrestler in his weight class.
With Athens just around the corner, Birner has his work cut out for him. But thanks to the support of HST and a strong status on his team, he is on his way to the final rounds to determine if he will compete for the gold as a Sailor and an Olympian.
For related news, visit the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn75.