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WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Eiter still making mark

By Gary Abbott In 1997, the international wrestling fed-

eration FILA reduced the Senior-level weight classes from 10 to eight. The two lightest weights in the sport were elimi- nated, making the lightest weight class 54 kg/119 lbs. The change knocked out most of the athletes who competed at 48 kg/105 lbs. A tradition of tough Americans at 48 kg came to the end. 1996 Olympian Rob Eiter was the last of the American stars at that weight class. Rob Eiter’s first love as an athlete was

ice hockey, a sport which he excelled at as a youth in Illinois. However, when Rob got older and did not grow as large as the other athletes, he ended up choosing wrestling. “I didn’t have much success in high

school wrestling,” said Eiter. “I started wrestling in seventh grade and was one of the smallest kids in school. My science teacher was the wrestling coach. I wres- tled at 60 pounds and it was good. As I got older, I didn’t grow much. After my sophomore year, I had to drop hockey. Physically, it was too much.” Eiter was a good high school wrestler,

but not a star. His high school coach trained the athletes hard, and taught Eiter a strong work ethic. He was a state quali- fier as a senior at 105 pounds but did not place. When he graduated, his family immediately moved to Phoenix, Ariz. Although Eiter had hoped to go to college in Illinois, his father asked him to try Arizona State instead. “It wasn’t a wrestling decision. I just

went there to go to school. I had no inten- tion of wrestling,” said Eiter. His first week at ASU, he met a top freshman wrestler named Zeke Jones from Michigan, who was about his size, and encouraged him to join the team as a training partner. A few days later, he met another talented freshman wrestler, Dan St. John from Ohio, who also asked him to come out for wrestling. “Two weeks later, Dan St. John was walking to practice, grabbed me and told me to come to practice. That first day, it was lucky I had my wrestling shoes with me. The rest is history,” said Eiter. Eiter joined the ASU wrestling team, coached by the legendary Bobby Douglas. His size remained an issue, this

32 USA Wrestler

Rob Eiter excelled on the international level as a top lightweight competitor.

time in college wrestling. The lowest weight class at the time was 118 pounds, and Rob was nowhere near that large. Instead of quitting, another opportunity opened up through freestyle. “Because Zeke and I were so small, we wrestled together. Bobby looked at me and said I should concentrate on freestyle. He knew I wasn’t getting much bigger. I said I’d try it, even though I had- n’t wrestled freestyle. Fortunately, I had some early success at 105 pounds. Back then, ASU had a Regional Training Center with the Sunkist Kids, with guys like Tim Vanni, Joe Gonzales and others who were training in freestyle,” said Eiter. After a redshirt year, Zeke Jones became the ASU starter at 118, and Eiter trained with him. Although Eiter never competed in the Arizona State singlet, he played an important part in the develop- ment of Jones and the other lightweights. Jones became an NCAA runner-up. “Bobby used me a lot to emulate who

Zeke had to wrestle. For instance, if we had Oklahoma State next, for a week, I’d be the OSU guy. I was a different guy every week. That really helped me to develop. I had to use different skills for

this kind of training. Bobby worked with me when we did this. A lot of kids at my level did not get as much time with the head coach,” said Eiter. As an 18 year old sophomore, Eiter

won the Sunkist Kids International, quali- fying him for the world famous Tbilisi Tournament in the Soviet Union. He needed three weeks for the Russia tour, and had to drop to part-time in college. His parents resisted the idea, but went along with it when Rob agreed to gradu- ate. From then on, Eiter was committed to being a freestyle wrestler fulltime. The opportunity for a lightweight wrestler to train in freestyle at Arizona State was “a perfect situation,” according to Eiter. His training partner, Tim Vanni, was the top wrestler at his weight class. “I never thought about the Olympics, although Bobby would tell me I would make an Olympic team. Tim was still the guy at 105. I owe Tim everything. He is the one who took me under his wing. Wherever Tim went, I went. We trained every day,” said Eiter. This situation lasted through 1992.

Eiter trained with Vanni throughout the Continued on page 33

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