BEIJING - What you notice, as the women walk out of the arena toward the locker room, is their faces. Most of their eyes are red and bleary, some from tears, some from head butts and hand slaps.

One French wrestler stopped to talk, and the welts on her face were fresh and vivid as subway graffiti.

Ali Bernard's face was unscarred, but her eyes were wet. The New Ulm wrestler lost in the 158.5-pound (72 kilograms) bronze medal match in her first Olympics, finishing with two victories and two losses in one long day of wrestling Sunday.

She took a long time to collect herself before talking about it, joking with reporters. "Well, I tried to run away from you ... ''

Then she said, "I'm disappointed. Clearly, I wanted to come home with a medal and I'm not. I guess that's about it.''

Olympic wrestling -- women's or men's -- is quick and brutal. Bernard wrestled four matches on Sunday (beginning Saturday Minnesota time) at the China Agricultural University Gymnasium, and none of the matches lasted longer than four minutes, or two periods.

She pinned Nigeria's Amarachi Obiajunwa in her first match, then lost in two periods to China's Wang Jiao, the eventual goal medalist, who had the locals screaming.

After a break, Bernard entered the repechage, or wrestle-back, knowing that two victories would win her the bronze medal in her first major international senior competition.

She beat Sweden's Jenny Fransson 3-1, 3-0 to advance to the bronze medal match against Kyoko Hamaguchi.

Hamaguchi won 3-0, 3-1, then ran to the side of the mat and flopped down, exulting, then fell to her knees again before her hand was raised in victory. Bernard stood stoically in the middle of the ring, waiting.

Just as she'll have to wait four more years for another chance at an Olympic medal.

"I want a medal,'' she said. "That's what I'm going for. I didn't get it now. I hope I get a chance again.

"I tried my hardest. It wasn't good enough.''

Bernard did not seem interested in moral victories or an Olympic experience outside winning a medal. Asked whether she was going to stay in town, she said, "No. God, no. We leave in two days.''

Did she have any fun at all in Beijing? "It was good,'' she said, unconvincingly. "It was a good time. It could have been better, but it was good.''

As Bernard spoke, a wrestler from Bulgaria wept nearby while being comforted by the Bulgarian president. A French wrestler walked by wearing those welts like jewelry.

In the first match of the day, the United States' Randi Miller pinned her opponent, who then appeared to pass out and needed medical assistance before leaving the ring. Asked if she was concerned about her opponent, Miller said, "No.'' Miller went on to win bronze in 138.75 pounds.

Bernard, wrestling in front of a baker's dozen of friends and relatives from New Ulm nicknamed the Ali Cats, looked unharmed but devastated.

"I just haven't had a lot of international experience,'' she said. "Hopefully, I'll start, they'll see that I'm up there and send me on more trips.

"I tried my hardest on all of them. Better luck next time. I could have done stuff different.''

U.S. coach Terry Steiner saw promise from Bernard. "She had a good day,'' he said. "Obviously, she has some things to learn. She does a lot of things well. She has some reactions you just don't teach, some natural instincts.

"We need to clean up some basic things, but she's a young kid and she's going to learn and she's going to improve. She's very confident. She finds ways to win, and she's a great competitor. We can work with that.''

Minutes after her last match, Bernard already looked determined to do just that.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP • jsouhan@startribune.com