USA MENS FREESTYLE: MINUS AN ICON AND BETTER THAN EVER
A bold and until very recently unthinkable description of the USA Mens FS team, but one that may very well prove accurate. We Americans head to Tokyo with World Champions/World medalists at all but 1 wt class. Athletes whose accolades have been earned across Cadet, Junior, Senior and Olympic competitions. Four of the six wt. classes in contention in Tokyo have an American as either a defending World Champion or a serious medal favorite. So who’s who in the Red, White and Blue? Glad you asked….
57kg. Thomas Gilman. The lead off man for team USA is truly multi faceted. Extraordinarily intelligent, Gilman is a military history buff who takes no prisoners when it comes to small talk (he doesnt), ill prepared interviewers, or hapless mat opponents. A four time state champion for Omaha (NE) Skutt Catholic. A Junior Worlds bronze medalist. A 3 time All American and national finalist for the Iowa Hawkeyes. After graduating in 2017 Gilman hit the Senior Worlds competitions with a bang right out the box. He swept away the opposition late that same year and brought home a precious Silver medal for the USA. Since then he’s made 2 more World Teams. Despite all this, just as in 2017, Thomas wasn’t the favorite to make this years squad. Yet here he is. He’s not a favorite to medal either. He knows that as well, and know THIS: inside, he’s smiling.
65kg. In what can only be described as the USAs Lemony Snicket class, significant efforts by outstanding wrestlers came up painfully short as the US will have no representative at this weight in Tokyo. 3 time Penn State NCAA Champion Zain Retherford, now with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, failed in 2 attempts to earn the US a spot. It came down to the last chance qualifier the 1st week of May.There, 3 time NCAA Finalist and 2 time Oklahoma State NCAA champ Jordan Oliver, now with the TarHeel Wrestling Club, battled his way to the semi finals where he came up on the short end of a 1 point loss. This weight class, despite boasting the presence of some of American wrestlings most dominant performers over the past decade and a half, has been a close but no cigar situation for us. Ah well, the 2021 World Championships is the next chance for a US medal. The last one earned by an American in this wt. class came in 2006, won by current USA Head Coach Bill Zadick.
74kg. Kyle Dake. A wrestling “changing of the guard” equivalent to the British Empires flag coming down in Hong Kong occured when Kyle Dake earned this spot by defeating 10 time US team superstar, 5 time World and Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs at the Olympic Trials. Dake, already a 2 time World champion at the non-Olympic 79kg weight class, is the ONLY athlete in the history of American collegiate wrestling to spread 4 national titles over 4 different weight classes. And he did that thing straight out of high school. NO prep year, NO redshirt season to acclimate to the brutal difference between HS and Division 1 college wrestling. Forgot to mention he did that at Cornell. Mentioned because…Ivy League. Dake (@kyledake444) has made the USA World or Olympic Team Trials Finals or Teams 6 different times at 3 different weight classes over an astounding 26lb. weight differential. His current weight class has been an American strength for decades. Wayne Wells, the late Dave Schultz, Kenny Monday, and Brandon Slay along with 2 time Olympian Burroughs are all modern era Gold Medalists. The US actually won the Gold AND the Silver in this weight class back in the day (1904 in St. Louis, FYI) when multiple entries were allowed. This time around, the Red, White and Blue only has Kyle Dake. He’s more than enough.
86kg. David Taylor. The “Magic Man” has been Americas top dog at this weight for 3 plus years. He is also undefeated in international competition over that span albeit with a chunk of time out of action due to injury. In fact, other than 2 losses to fellow American superstar J’Den Cox(1), Taylor’s come out on top of everybody since December 2016. His early accomplishments include 4 state titles for the prestigious St. Paris Graham (OH) school. In college he recorded 4 NCAA Finals appearances, 2 titles, and only 3 losses against 134 wins as a Penn State Nittany Lion. The freakish nature of those numbers are overshadowed by this: Taylor PINNED, beat by Technical Superiority, or scored a major decision against NINETY PER CENT of everyone he wrestled. That’s just not fair, folks. David has multiple wins over the widely regarded #2 man at this weight, World and Olympic champion Hassan Yazdanicharati of Iran. There’s always an international threat, or three, that surfaces when the Rings are flying, but the majority of the wrestling world is waiting on another titanic showdown between these two.
97kg. Kyle Snyder. When your widely accepted (and upon occasion ridiculed) nickname is “Captain America” hyperbolic expectations are the norm. If Dake and Taylor’s track records are hard to believe, then Snyders path is the stuff of fairy tales. He never lost a high school match at Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Maryland(1). He was so dominant in compiling a 179-0 record he spent his senior year training and competing at the Olympic Training Center. Snyder became a Senior World Champion after his first year in college. He followed that up with an Olympic Gold medal and 3 NCAA titles for Ohio State. Somehow he found time to win another World Championship and graduate after his 3rd college individual title. You feeling this? Since then he has lost a few matches, taking Silver and Bronze at the last two World Championships. Another change of scenery was in store both for a refresh of his progress and his wifes medical school track. Now out of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club Snyder strolled through the Olympic Trials and seems poised to make a run at defending his Olympic title. MANY outstanding competitors fill this weight class World wide, but THE giant shadow being cast belongs to two time defending World Champion (AND 86kg 2016 Olympic Champ) Abdulrashid Sadulaev. “The Russian Tank” has exactly two, count ’em, two “official” losses in nearly 10 years of international competition. Kyle and Abdulrashid have split 1-1. Will they meet in Tokyo? What happens if they do? The Scribe stands with Snyder but with full understanding that there are multiple massive roadblocks in between a third Captain America-Russian Tank donnybrook(2) and a medal.
125kg. Gable Steveson. Stop the Scribe if you’ve heard this before. Young superstar, recognized early. Near perfect scholastic record. Dominant Division 1 National Champion level success. Check, check, and recheck for almost EVERY member of the USA Mens Freestyle team. Now take ALL those ingredients, ADD 265 lbs of other worldly skill, drive, and athleticism, a big pinch of pizzazz, and a CEOs level of market awareness, and you’ll have the raw material that is Gable Steveson. Subtract 5 years of life from the team average age and you’ll grow further in awe of what America’s best big man on the mat has done. And the time frame he’s done it in. Raise your hand if you’ve been the best in the World at what you do 4 times. BY THE AGE OF 20! Go ahead, the Scribe is waiting. Thought so. The thinking here is Gable will realize some of his sport-changing potential with a medal winning performance in Tokyo. Yes, the amazing World and Olympic champion, the great Taha Akgul of Turkey, will be there. Multiple time World Champion Geno Petriashvilli of Georgia will be there. As will large numbers of eXtremely large, eXtremely talented men. All eXtremely determined to win. That’s Triple X, or roughly equivalent to the ratings label on what Gable Dan Steveson is going to do to the World in Tokyo. Vin Diesel and the whole damn Fast and Furious crew can’t touch that(3).
WISKY WITHOUT 2 WICKS NOT AS POTENT A COCKTAIL
A quick and interesting note confirmed by both a family member and the website WrestleStat notes 3x All American Evan Wick is on his way out of Wisconsin. The Badgers are assembling a scary good team that was led by Wick and returning All Americans heavyweight Trent Hilger and 125lb Eric Barnett. Toss in confirmed high quality transfer Andrew McNally from Kent State, 6th year Lehigh holdover AND column favorite Chris Weiler (@Crazyhorse_cw on Twitter, and the ONLY active college wrestler the Scribe follows) and uber recruit Braxton Amos, and Bucky Badger looks locked and loaded. Now, however, they’ll be missing a superior wrestler/athlete/human being and a middleweight Wisconsin linchpin gone prior to his penultimate season. Brother Zander Wick, long off the mat due to multiple injuries, leaves Madtown degree in hand and future in sight. Wither Wick the Younger? Someplace that will be much happier than they are now.
A SAD SIDE NOTE FROM SOFIA
Bulgaria, not Vergara, don’t get it twisted. the Scribe is happily married. Seriously disappointing but not at all unexpected results from the Last Chance Qualifier saw neither 77kg Jesse Porter nor 130kg Adam Coon qualify their spots at Greco Roman for the Olympics. Both faced major uphill battles and both failed to make the finals which would have guaranteed the USA a spot at those weights in Tokyo. When the opponents who beat them also failed to make the finals both Porter and Coon were knocked out of medal contention. Entirely too disappointing a note to end a column on, so let’s wrap up with this high note instead…
T.C. TRUTHS ALL DAY, THE GRECO WAY
Last column 2008 Olympian and National Business Security expert(4) T.C. Dantzler stunned the Scribe with an amazing overflow of facts, so nice they had to be shared twice. Here’s part 2 of T.C.s observations on GR Star G’Angelo Hancock in particular and competition in general. On G’Angelos chances at representing the US through 2 Olympic cycles:
“Why not? I would expect nothing less based on his work ethic and what he’s willing to do. (Hancock) goes Overseas to the hardest training camps in the World. When he gets there he’s verbally challenging the best guys in the World every day in training. Some of these camps are by invitation only for the toughest wrestlers from 97kg to (130kg).” Hancock even has a unique approach to nutrition, Dantzler notes. “(D’Angelo) won’t buy meat. He fishes instead and if he can’t catch his food he won’t eat meat. He’s a throwback, he’s tough. He’s 23, and BTW, he only wrestled 2 full years in HS.” Finally, on that finest of separation lines in sports, the stuff between the ears, Coach D summed it all up. “Anyone coached by me will tell you I also coach the mental game. Hancocks mental game is on point. It’s actually impressive that he can always be on point with his mental game. (But) in the same token this is what I expect from our young guys who commit to International wrestling right out of HS. This is what it looks like.” And THAT is what words of wisdom from a master read like. Thank you, Coach.
See you sometime soon!
(1) The amazing and multi talented Cox was an undefeated 4 time HS Champ for Hickman (MO), then a 4x All American and 3x National Champ for Brian Smith’s Missouri Tigers. Cox beat Taylor for the 2016 Team USA 2016 Olympic 86kg spot, and Cox and Snyder split a pair of Freestyle and Greco Roman matches competing in national level events while in HS. J’Dens 3 year undefeated streak was unceremoniously ended by a missed weigh in at this years Olympic Trials.
(2) “Donnybrook”, a great word for a wrestling match/scrap/tournament.
(3) WOW! 2 semi obscure movie references AND a song title in one footnote. Get your money’s worth here. And anyone who thinks EITHER of those cinematic series truly ranks among the greatest ever is, sadly, misinformed. The song…Well, you know😉
(4) 2020 Screening, Optimum Screening, and Be Sure Background Checks, all part of Dantzlers business persona, help process over 2 million criminal background searches for companies from sporting organizations to dating sites.