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Cornell to open nation's first dedicated wrestling center, named for alumni Stephen Friedman and trustee Barbara Benioff Friedman

ITHACA, N.Y. -- You have cheered baseball in a ballpark, watched football in a stadium and enjoyed basketball in a gymnasium. Now, for the first time in the United States, wrestling has its own house.

Cornell University's Friedman Wrestling Center, the first arena in the nation built solely for the sport, hosts its first official match when Cornell's Big Red varsity team meets the Ohio State University Buckeyes Sunday, Jan. 26, at 2 p.m. The match will be preceded by an opening ceremony at 1:45 p.m. at which Cornell President Hunter Rawlings will introduce Stephen Friedman, who is an adviser to President George W. Bush.

The $3.5 million facility is named for two Cornell alumni who made the lead gift toward the building, Stephen Friedman, who was appointed to the Bush administration in December, and his wife, Barbara Benioff Friedman. Stephen Friedman is a former Cornell wrestling star and 1959 graduate. Barbara Friedman, also class of 1959, has been a university trustee since 1993 and currently is co-vice chair of the Cornell Board of Trustees.

The 15,000-square-foot building features state-of-the-art training and weight rooms, a student lounge for studying, computers with Internet access, a large locker room for the Cornell squad, a smaller one for visitors and an arena with 1,100 seats. "It's like owning an indoor hockey rink when everyone else plays outside," says Rob Koll, Cornell's David R. Dunlop '59 Wrestling Coach.

In addition to Friedman, Arno P. Niemand, Cornell class of 1956, Scott Smith, class of 1979, and other Cornell wrestling alumni provided gifts to fund the project.

Cannon Design, Boston, the wrestling center's architects, put hundreds of hours of assessing and planning into the building's design and its special features, where wrestling takes place. "I had a clear vision of what we needed and how I wanted the building to flow," says Koll. "I wanted it to be light, not gloomy." One feature is the floor's base, which is a foam riser, covered in plywood and finished with maple. "This kind of floor has an extra yield," says Koll. "It's not like a basketball floor at all, which is more rigid. This has plenty of give."

When the bleachers are retracted, the arena will offer four mats of wrestling space. During matches, bleachers will flank three sides of a center mat and the lighting will be similar to that of a boxing ring. "The atmosphere will be intense," Koll says.

Off to the side of the main wrestling area is a weight room and exercise facility. Koll wants his wrestlers to lift weights after practice, so he suggested an exercise area, with custom-designed weight machines. "What is wrestling but lifting weights when you're tired?" he asks.

Since 1972 when Title IX became law, 439 college wrestling programs had been discontinued, according to the National Collegiate Wrestling Association. But in recent years, men's wrestling as a collegiate sport has seen a renaissance. In the past five years, about 73 collegiate programs have either been started or reinstated.

Stephen Friedman was an Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Championships finalist for three consecutive seasons (1957-59), winning at 157 pounds in his Cornell senior year. He was the Amateur Athletic Union national champion at 160 pounds in 1961 and, in the same year, won the gold medal at Israel's Maccabiah Games. In 1984 he received a National Collegiate Athletic Association Silver Anniversary Award for outstanding athletic and career achievements. And in 1984 he was inducted into the Cornell Athletic Hall of Fame.

Before joining the Bush administration, Stephen Friedman was a senior principal of insurance broker Marsh & McLennan, a firm he joined in 1994 after retiring as chairman of Goldman Sachs. He joined the investment bank in 1966 and became partner in 1973. He rose to vice chairman and co-chief operating officer in 1987 and chairman in 1990.

The current Big Red wrestling team has been climbing in the national rankings since December. The squad won all four of its matches at the Lone Star Duals in Dallas early in January, defeating fourth-ranked Oklahoma, 12th-ranked Nebraska, Eastern Michigan and California State-Fullerton. All-American Travis Lee, a Cornell sophomore, was named the Division 1 Most Outstanding Wrestler (lower weight) and All-American Clint Wattenberg, a senior, was named the Division 1 Most Outstanding Wrestler (upper weight) at the 19-team event.

After the Lone Star Duals, Lee and freshman Dustin Manotti improved their win-loss records to 18-0 this season. Wattenberg, 18-1 in 2002-03, moved into fourth place on Cornell's career wins chart with his 99th victory in the Nebraska match.

Cornell now is ranked fourth in the Wrestling International Magazine poll and fifth in the National Wrestling Coaches poll.

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EDITORS: You are invited to take a media tour of the Friedman Wrestling Center on Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 11 a.m. The tour will be given by coach Rob Koll. To reserve a place on the tour, contact Blaine Friedlander, Cornell News Service, at (607) 255-3290. You also are welcome to attend the Cornell-Ohio State match on Jan. 26. Photos are available.

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