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So the 16-year-old ate just fruit one day,

By Jim SuhrAssociated Press Published: December 28, 1997 12:00 AM

So the 16-year-old ate just fruit one day, then a tiny meal with meat the next while running excessively in between.

He lost the weight _ but collapsed unconscious moments after his match, weakened by dehydration linked to his grueling weight loss.

"I made a mistake and was lucky enough to live to fix it," Angelone, of Fayetteville, N.C., said Thursday.

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Others haven't been so fortunate. Since Nov. 9, three college wrestlers have died during workouts as they tried to lose weight to make their weight classes. The deaths have raised fears about training techniques and the perils of drastic, at times desperate weight-loss efforts common in the sport.

"The situation demands change, and I think we'll see it," says Iowa State coach Bobby Douglas.

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"We don't want to put a Band-Aid on a gaping wound, but by the same token we don't want to cry wolf when there's no wolf in the woods," he said. "We have to look at anything and everything."

The most recent to die was 21-year-old University of Michigan wrestler Jeff Reese. He died last week of kidney failure and a heart malfunction while wearing a rubber suit and riding a stationary bike in a bid to lose several pounds.

Eighteen days earlier, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse wrestler Joseph LaRosa also was in a rubber suit and riding an exercise bike when he died while trying to shed 4 pounds. He was 22.

On Nov. 9, 19-year-old Billy Saylor at North Carolina's Campbell University died trying to drop 6 pounds for a match.

Since Reese's death, Michigan has suspended its wrestling program until after Christmas while it reviews how the sport operates at the school and throughout the NCAA.

The NCAA has asked the schools to conduct individual investigations and report their findings to Dan Gable, who is taking this season off as coach at Iowa. Gable, a 1972 Olympic gold medalist whose Hawkeyes have won 15 national titles in his 21 years as coach, will study the findings and report to the NCAA Wrestling Rules Committee.

"We've got to have some regulation to prevent any dangerous situation," Gable told the Chicago Tribune. "I want to find out what happened so it won't happen again."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it will investigate the effects of creatine, a synthetic muscle-building supplement widely used by athletes. The agency wants to know whether the wrestlers' deaths were linked to dietary supplements.

Among wrestlers, there is a prevailing belief that regardless of risks, losing pounds swiftly to compete in the lowest possible weight class offers an advantage over lighter opponents.

"Part of the wrestlers' mentality is to keep going, keep going, and push themselves beyond fatigue," said Al Kastl, a USA Wrestling board member and wrestling coach at Fraser High School in suburban Detroit.

"Wrestlers consider themselves the best-conditioned athletes that exist, and they like the fact they can go where no one's gone before. The instilled attitude among these kids is that if they push and push, it'll pay off with a victory."

Angelone, the 16-year-old in North Carolina, agreed.

"Most wrestlers can be stubborn, hard-headed and think that can't happen to them," he said. "I really didn't think what happened to that Campbell dude would happen to me."

The NCAA bars college wrestlers from participating in more than three weight classes in a season. But there are no rules on how much weight a wrestler can lose in a season.

The NCAA also discourages but doesn't prohibit use of rubber suits commonly used by weight-wary wrestlers, including some on Douglas' team.

"We can't really regulate what they do during the course of a season," said Stann Tate, the NCAA's assistant director of championships.

"We could make every rule in the book, but we can't legislate ethics. That's where wrestlers and coaches have to put the onus on themselves."

Some states _ aware years ago of wrestling's health risks _ have been quicker to act. In Michigan and Wisconsin, governing bodies check a prep wrestler's body fat at the beginning of the season and tell the athletes how many pounds they can trim.

The rules also limit weight loss in a week to 3 1/2 pounds and prohibit a wrestler from participating if his body fat drops below 7 percent. Most medical experts agree that 5 percent is the lowest acceptable for athletes; Wisconsin and Michigan consider the extra 2 percent a safety margin.

Michigan prep wrestlers are barred from using such weight-loss techniques as saunas, laxatives or rubber suits. Nutrition workshops are required for prep wrestlers and coaches.

"Rather than losing weight, let's put losing fat in the vernacular," said Jim Scott, chairman of USA Wrestling's sports science and medicine committee. Scott teaches physical education at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, where he coached wrestling for 23 years.

Some believe proper weight-loss techniques should be instilled in wrestlers when they first enter the sport. That, they hope, would limit extreme _ and potentially fatal _ weight-loss efforts.

In the aftermath of his collapse, Angelone is required to dine with his mother, work out at home under his parents' supervision and log his weight daily on a chart stuck to the refrigerator.

"He's changed 100 percent," said his father, Nick, an assistant high school principal in Fayetteville.

"He knows that if he's going to do it, he's got to do it right. I've told him several times, 'Son, I realize your desire, but in the process you can't sacrifice everything for this. He's gotten the point."

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