An Olympic hopeful as driven in his business as on the mat

Wrestler T.C. Dantzler, owner of a million-dollar company, is competing this weekend for a berth on the 2008 US Olympic Team.

Beijing hopeful: This weekend, T.C. Dantzler (l.) will vie for a 2008 US Olympic berth in Greco-Roman wrestling.
Mark Sappenfield
Million-dollar Entrepreneur: Mr. Dantzler starts his day at 4:48 a.m. and grows his 3-year-old company in between workouts.

Even sitting in his swank office amid flat-screen monitors, there is a touch of Superman about T.C. Dantzler.

Perhaps it's because this mild-mannered business executive could at any moment put you in a headlock. Or that Mr. Dantzler's alter ego also spends his days subduing villains in a shiny, skin-tight suit.

Yet more impressive even than leaping tall buildings is Dantzler's daily to-do list: (1) Qualify for the Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling team. (2) Run a million-dollar company.

For most Olympic athletes, twice-a-day training sessions and week-long trips to Baku so sweaty Azerbaijanis can twist you like a balloon animal is quite enough to fill the monthly planner. But for Dantzler and a handful of other Olympic hopefuls, downtime is business time.

It means alarms set for 4:48 a.m., forbearing spouses worthy of medals themselves, and more energy than a room full of plutonium rods.

It's a striking contrast with many athletes, who – as Olympic sports move farther from their amateur roots – opt for a lifestyle that's as stress-free as possible in their downtime, relying increasingly on sponsors and coteries of handlers that include everything from masseuses to nutritionists. But for Olympian entrepreneurs, the urge to compete is greater than sports alone can satisfy.

"I have that drive in business, too," says Dantzler, whose firm, TC logiQ, does employee background checks for its clients. "I've always known that when I stop wrestling, I want my company to be one of the top businesses in the world."

Olympic sailor John Dane has already achieved that, running one of the world's leading luxury-yacht companies, Trinity Yachts. Alpine skier and Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety has recently started his own brand of eyewear, Shred Optics. And mogul skiers Shannon Bahrke and Michelle Roark founded Silver Bean Coffee and Phi-nomenal perfumes, respectively.

Chessplayer-like approach to life

For Dantzler, the goal is simple: One day, he wants a college football bowl game named after his company. He laughs, but he is only half joking. In wrestling and in life, Dantzler has approached each move like one of the chessmen that sit on a desk in his office: deliberately, determinedly, and with a clear sense of purpose.

When he wanted to switch from freestyle wrestling to Greco-Roman style, he bought a book diagramming all the moves and practiced them in slowmotion on a willing (and rather dedicated) girlfriend.

When he wanted to become a business owner, he looked for jobs that would do more than provide fiscal fuel for his wrestling career. They were a primer on corporate America – selling annuities for Mutual Life, for instance, or working as a recruiter for MCI.

"In his head, he's always wanted to be an entrepreneur," says his wife, Tanya. "He really had to seek it out."

It was at MCI that the inspiration for TC logiQ came. "People were missing all this work because they were having court dates and attrition was high," he says. "Once we started doing background checks, our attrition improved and our liability improved."

During many late nights that idea became the seed of a 3-year-old company that now employs 23 people, will add six more in July, and has grown to the point that the industry's biggest names have offered to buy it. If all goes as planned, Dantzler hopes to go public with a $30 million enterprise in several years.

The only impediment to the plan, he says, turned out to be himself.

"At one point, I thought I could do it all myself," he says, at ease in his office in a trim, charcoal gray, pinstripe suit. Even now, after he has taken on a business partner, his schedule appears to be an attempt to find more than 24 hours in a day.

To ensure at least 12 minutes of rest a day, Dantzler sets his alarm for 4:48, allowing him one snooze. He's out the door by 5:30, giving him two hours in the office before returning home to help get his two children ready for school at 7:40. Then there's the day's first practice from 8:30 to 10, some 4-1/2 hours of work after that, followed by his second wrestling practice. He returns home at 8 o'clock to a frontal assault from his kids. "You go home and you get attacked by a 4-year-old because they think that you should have constant energy," Dantzler says.

The remarkable thing, adds wife Tanya, is that he does. "He'll go through these crazy things for us – coming home at night to spend time with us then going back to work at 10 o'clock."

With trials for the Beijing Olympics this weekend, a third child on the way, and plans to adopt a 1-year-old niece who is in foster care, Dantzler's days are getting even shorter. "Now, I know I can't do it all myself, which is why I surround myself with great people," he says.

Like Jarvis Wyatt. As a premier real-estate developer in Denver, he brings additional business savvy to TC logiQ.

Business partner helps him manage

As Dantzler's childhood friend, wrestling with and against Dantzler in Chicago clubs since they were 14, Mr. Wyatt understands how to handle a business partner who is often distracted by other matters – such as a lifelong dream of making the Olympics.

It can be an occupational hazard. When Dantzler was at a crucial tournament in Rome last month, a client demanded to talk with him about the result of a background check. Wyatt refused even to tell Dantzler that there was a problem until his matches were over.

"I almost have to play mental gymnastics with him so I don't interrupt his preparation," Wyatt says. In the end, Dantzler finished third and "the client didn't even recognize it as a delay," Wyatt twinkles, "because I'm very good at what I do."

Wyatt may have to keep it up, because Dantzler – in his late 30s and soon to be father of four – refuses to rule out an attempt at the London Games of 2012 – a thought that makes his wife and business partner cringe. But the benefits of working with an aspiring Olympian far outweigh the inconveniences, Wyatt says.

"There have been times I thought we wouldn't be able to get a client, and he turned that around," he adds. "He has the ability to create an opportunity where one didn't exist."

This is where the lessons of wrestling and business overlap. "I've got to see things one move ahead," says Dantzler. "If a guy stops one move, I've got another I can go to.... It's what keeps it so exciting."

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The scent of victory

Michelle Roark probably took the advice a bit too literally. When skiing moguls, the sports psychologist said, she should be able to touch, taste, hear, feel, and smell victory. The smell of victory? Ms. Roark was stumped.

Fortunately, she was also a chemical engineer, so she did what any logical Olympian would do: She invented it. So began Phi-nomenal, the perfume company which has Roark cashing in on frequent-flier miles from her ski season to jet to Madagascar in search of the perfect vanilla. Her six fragrances, available online, are poured by hand using only natural ingredients. (Think 600 Bulgarian rose petals in a $78 bottle).

In the off-season, it's 11-hour days, six days a week. But even in winter, after plummeting piston-legged down bumpy pistes, she stays hunched over her concoctions as late as 11 p.m.

To Roark, there's something almost alchemical about her work, adhering to the same phi proportions in her perfumes that Mozart used in his concertos and da Vinci in his artwork.

And the smell of victory? A dash of rose water, a sprinkling of Florida pink grapefruit, and a hint of Italian Bergamot.