2012 Olympics tempt Hrovat

Three seconds. That's all that separated Andy Hrovat from winning a wrestling match in the Beijing Olympics.

With an eye-blink of carelessness, the Cleveland native went from winner to loser in his first-round match against Cuba's Reineris Salas at 185 pounds.

But instead of letting the experience haunt him, Hrovat is using it as motivation. Despite being on the downside of his career, the 29-year-old is pursuing a chance to wrestle in the 2012 London Olympics.

Hrovat's quest for redemption begins today when he seeks a title in the U.S. National Championships at the Las Vegas Convention Center. A victory would put him in good shape to win a berth on the USA squad that will compete in the world championships at Herning, Denmark, from Sept. 21 to 23.

"This is a very important competition for me," said Hrovat, a former Michigan star who is the top-ranked American in his weight class. "To get a shot at winning at the worlds, it's huge."

Hrovat might be rusty after missing seven weeks of training because of a hip pointer he sustained while training in Russia in January. He said he's fine and isn't worried about the time away from the mat.

"Actually the time off was a good thing," he said. "I was able to work on stuff, and I'm a better wrestler now."

While wrestling is serious business to Hrovat and his competitors, he is known for not taking himself too seriously. He changes his appearance often and wears flamboyant clothes. He owns two fur coats and three suits that are far from conventional.

This week he is sporting a shaved head and a scruffy beard, looking more like a hockey player deep into the playoffs than a wrestler.

"I tend to get bored easily," Hrovat said. "So I try to shake things up. I tend to wrestle better when I'm more relaxed. When you're tense you don't compete as well."

The freestyle competition begins at 9 a.m. today. The finals will start at 5 p.m.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.