2016 Olympic Team Trials -- Challenge Tournament and Best-of-Three Championship Series
Date: Saturday, April 9, 2016
Time: 9 AM CT (Challenge Tournament); 6 PM CT (Best-of-Three Championship Series)
Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa City, IA)
TV/Streaming: NBC Sports Network / NBC Sports Live Extra (more details here)
Twitter: @IowaWRLive, @IAWrestle, @Andy_Hamilton, @JordyHansen, @cbomb12, @kjpilcher
For the second-straight Olympic cycle, the Olympic Team Trials for wrestling (men's and women's freestyle, as well as Greco-Roman) will be going down at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, IA. But this year's iteration is going to be better than what fans got to see in 2012, in large part because the rules surrounding freestyle wrestling have changed dramatically -- for the better. Gone are rules that were confusing and promoted conservative, boring wrestling. In are rules that are streamlined, easy to understand and promote exciting, action-packed wrestling. You can find much more information about the rule changes in this article from Andy Hamilton.
For Iowa fans, the Olympic Team Trials are of interest because there are will be several former Hawkeyes competing in them and vying for spots on the U.S. Olympic team going to Rio in pursuit of medals come August. Brent Metcalf (65 KG), Tony Ramos (57 KG), Dan Dennis (57 KG), and Bobby Telford (125 KG) will all be competing this weekend for spots at their respective weights. Sam Stoll, a current Iowa wrestler, also qualified for the Olympic Team Trials at 130 KG in the Greco-Roman division, although he will not be competing due to he knee injury he suffered at the end of the college season.
In addition to the former Hawkeyes in action this weekend, there are also several other wrestlers with Iowa ties -- UNI or ISU alums or wrestlers who just live and train in Iowa now -- who will be in action this weekend, as Andy Hamilton documented here:
Olympic Trials qualifiers with Iowa ties pic.twitter.com/UN7O6wzt8U— Andy Hamilton (@Andy_Hamilton) April 4, 2016
(click here for bigger version)
This is a stacked field. Four wrestlers have represented the U.S. on World Teams (Metcalf, James Green, Reece Humphrey, and Jimmy Kennedy) and eight of the wrestlers here have combined to win 14 NCAA championships (4: Stieber; 2: Metcalf, Russell, Oliver; 1: Molinaro, Retherford, Ness, Heil). Metcalf isn't going to have an easy road to the championship finals -- he'll face either Molinaro or Kellen Russell will be his first opponent, followed by a likely showdown with Logan Stieber or James Green in the round after that. Stieber, a four-time NCAA champion at Ohio State, has had a year to get acclimated to freestyle and could well be the future for the U.S. at 65 KG -- will that future start this year or will Stieber have to wait to make a World or Olympic Team?
James Green has already made a World Team for the U.S. -- he won a bronze medal at 70 KG at the World Championships last year. Unfortunately, 70 KG isn't a contested weight at the Olympics (in order to get wrestling back into the Olympics, the sport agreed to drop two weights, 61 KG and 70 KG, from Olympic competition). Green is an athletic and explosive wrestler, with a deadly blast double leg takedown that's just as devastating in freestyle as it was in folkstyle (college wrestling). The question for him is whether the cut to 65 KG will prove too draining for him. It should help him that weigh-ins for this event are a full day ahead of competition, rather than 1-2 hours, as is the case for folkstyle weigh-ins for college competitions.
The bottom half of the bracket is less threatening, although Jordan Oliver and Jimmy Kennedy are both very talented and dangerous wrestlers. Kennedy has past experience representing the U.S. in international competition and Oliver has consistently been the second-best U.S. wrestler (behind Metcalf). Oliver is also the only U.S. wrestler in the last four years to actually beat Metcalf in freestyle competition. Reece Humphrey also has international experience and Aaron Pico is a young wrestler tipped to be the Next Big Thing who's been focused on freestyle for years. If Stieber isn't the future at 65 KG for the U.S., Pico might be the man there.
This feels like Brent Metcalf's last, best chance to make a World or Olympic Team and win an international medal. He's been the man at this weight for the U.S. for several years, but guys like Oliver, Pico, and Stieber appear to be gaining on him. This will be their weight soon -- can he hold them off for one more year? And then there's Green, a big wildcard at this weight. Metcalf is 29 now and while he may still be able to contend for World Team spots at the World Championships for the next few years, this is almost certainly his last chance to make an Olympic Team. I badly want to see him make it to Rio... but it's not going to be easy.
(click here for bigger version)
The other men's freestyle weight being contested on Saturday is the big boys, 125 KG. The main man here is Tervel Dlagnev, who has represented the U.S. at four World Championships (2009, 2011, 2013, 2014) and one Olympics (2012) and never finished lower than 5th place. He has two bronze medals at the World Championships (from 2009 and 2014). He's a proven winner at this weight and outside of Jordan Burroughs at 74 KG and Kyle Snyder at 96 KG (both of whom compete on Sunday) , he may be the United States' best bet at winning a medal in freestyle at the Olympics. Unfortunately, he's been hampered by back issues over the last year and it's not clear if he'll be 100% this weekend. Like Metcalf, this is probably his last opportunity to make an Olympic team, as he's 30 years old.
The most interesting names at 125 KG are in the bottom half of the bracket. Zach Rey is the most successful wrestler down there (he won the Pan American Games and Pan American Championships last year), but he's been in Dlagnev's shadow for a while and has struggled to beat him in head-to-head competition. Iowa's Bobby Telford is also in the bottom half of the bracket; he had a top-seven finish at the U.S. Open last year and finished in 3rd place at the Olympic Trial Qualifier event. If he gets by Justin Grant in his first match, he'll have a very tough second match against Nick Gwiazdowski. Gwiz is a two-time NCAA champion whose 80+ match winning streak was snapped by Ohio State's Kyle Snyder in a thrilling match in the NCAA Tournament last month. He's expected to replace Dlagnev as the main man at this weight soon -- the question is whether or not it will be this year. He is coming off a long college season and hasn't been immersed in freestyle the way the other guys at this weight have been, so he may not be quite as sharp here as he would be a year from now.
Also competing Saturday:
You can still purchase tickets from Iowa here. All-session (everything Saturday and Sunday) cost $75 for adults and $50 for ages 18 and under. Single-day tickets (everything Saturday or everything Sunday) cost $45 for adults and $35 for ages 18 and under. Single-session tickets (i.e., just the morning on Saturday or just the evening on Saturday) cost $30 for adults and $25 for ages 18 and under.
The usual rules apply. I'll post updates in the comments; feel free to join in.