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Friday, September 3, 2004
McMann was driving in Colorado accident

Associated Press

BRUSH, Colo. -- The boyfriend of Olympic wrestling silver-medalist Sara McMann was killed Friday when the Jeep they were in rolled off the shoulder of Interstate 76 in northeastern Colorado, the Colorado State Patrol said.

The crash happened about 1:20 p.m., patrol spokesman Master Trooper Ron Watkins said. The 1997 Jeep Cherokee rolled about two times, and Steven Blackford, 28, a three-time NCAA All-American wrestler at Arizona State, was ejected, Watkins said. Blackford was not wearing a seat belt.

He said McMann was driving and he believed Blackford was in the front passenger seat.

McMann, 23, of Lock Haven, Pa., was hospitalized in Fort Morgan and has asked that her condition not be released, according to a hospital employee who refused to give her name. Watkins said she suffered minor to moderate injuries, but could not elaborate. Investigators believe she was wearing a seat belt.

Watkins said the accident remained under investigation, but speed may be a possible cause. He did not know if alcohol or drugs were related. The crash happened about 10 miles east of Brush, about 90 miles northeast of Denver.

McMann's parents, Paula and Tucker McMann, told The Express newspaper in Lock Haven that hospital officials said their daughter was physically OK.

She won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens in the 138½-pound (63-kg) weight class. She lost the championship match to rival and training partner Kaori Icho of Japan.

Blackford and McMann were traveling from the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to Washington D.C., where he was attending the Columbus Law School at the Catholic University of America, according to Gary Abbott of USA Wrestling.

Blackford's 19-year-old sister, Valerie, of Des Moines, Iowa, said the couple planned to stop there for a Labor Day party with his family before heading to Washington. Blackford also is survived by his parents, Steven and Karen, and a 22-year-old brother, John.

"He was the best brother in the world, and everyone remembers him as being outgoing," Valerie Blackford said.

She said her brother's death has been very hard on her mother, who also lost her father in July.

McMann had dedicated her Olympic performance to her late brother, Jason, who introduced her to wrestling and was killed five years ago. A former Lock Haven University football player goes on trial in his death later this fall.

Blackford was living with Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Arizona, and was very interested in law, Valerie Blackford said.

"Sara was moving out there to be with him," she said. "They were just going to grow up and live life, pretty much."

Tricia Saunders, McMann's former teammate and friend, said the couple had met at her home in Arizona.

"They just fit together," she said. "They were really nice to see together because they really took care of each other."

She said McMann was excited to move to Washington, unwind after the Olympics and possibly attend graduate school.

"Steve was really just someone who had a childlike sense about him," Saunders said. "He was a really wonderful guy, who just kind of exuded that kind of joy."